Open UROP Positions

Challenging research opportunities exist for undergraduates of all levels in Course 22, especially for freshmen, through MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Join our faculty, students, and staff on cutting-edge research projects for credit or pay, and get hands-on experience on the research that the NSE department has to offer. Our UROPs are all NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED unless stated otherwise.

You are encouraged to browse the research sections of the NSE website to learn more about the areas of research that Department faculty are engaged in. Undergraduate research opportunities may not always be listed with MIT's UROP Office. Heather Barry in the NSE Undergraduate Program Office and Prof. Michael Short, NSE's UROP Coordinator, will help you find a UROP in Course 22.

Check out our Open UROP Positions to start your research career in Course 22 today!

The economics of a nuclear accident

Contact: Aditi Verma
UROP Description: Nuclear accidents are expensive events. They have the potential to incur large direct costs at the site of the accident. They also have the potential to create trans-boundary costs -- both direct costs and reputational costs -- in other countries. The goal of this project is to study the responses to nuclear accidents in the US, France and Russia. What kinds of costs did these countries experience after each major nuclear accident (TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima)? The magnitude of these costs will be compared with safety related changes made in each country after each accident to determine whether the responses to these accidents have been economically rational. This information will be gathered through newspaper and journal articles, interviews and archival work.

The transfer of technology and risk heuristics

Contact: Aditi Verma
UROP Description: The purpose of this project is to understand the extent to which vendors or sellers of complex, high hazard technologies transfer organizational and institutional practices for managing risks to the buyers of the technologies. Do the buyers follow the approaches developed by the sellers or do they develop local practices for managing risks and ensuring safety? Specifically this project will be based on case studies of the transfer of nuclear reactor technologies. Did the buyer make modifications to the original technologies , organizations and institutions as transferred to it from the seller. If so, what were the motivations for these modifications? The UROP student will perform case studies of the transfer of PWR technologies from the US to France, Japan and Sweden, and also from the USSR/Russia to Finland, Slovakia and East Germany. This information will be gathered through newspaper and journal articles, interviews and archival work.

The Social Construction of Safety

Contact: Aditi Verma
UROP Description: The purpose of this UROP project is to understand how safety is defined, designed into machines and operational procedures and enforced by organizational and institutional incentives. To this end, the UROP student will perform case studies of accidents in different high hazard industries - nuclear, railways, airlines, chemical, medical (or perhaps others). The plan of work is as follows: 1. Review literature on the classification of industries and accidents 2. Review and develop typologies for classifying technologies, industries and accidents 3. Select specific high hazard industries to be studied 4. Develop a criterion for selecting an accident from each industry 5. Study each accident: a. Was the accident expected (within the ‘design basis’) or unexpected? b. How was the accident analyzed? How were the causes of the accident analyzed? What was determined to be the cause of the accident? c. What was the cost of the accident? Who bore the cost of the accident? d. What changes were made -- technological, organizational and institutional - following the accident to make the technology safer? Who proposed these changes? What alternative changes or solutions were proposed? How were alternatives evaluated? This information will be gathered through newspaper and journal articles, interviews and archival work. Broadly the goal of this project is to understand how high hazard industries respond to accidents. More specifically, what mechanisms and opportunities - technological, organizational or institutional - are used to make post-accident changes to make the high hazard technology safer?

Performance Evaluation of SiC Ceramic Matrix Composite Fuel Cladding during Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) by Experimental Investigation and Ceramographic Analysis

Contact: Dr. Tom McKrell

Cross section and microstructure of silicon carbide (SiC)

UROP Description: In current nuclear power plants, the uranium fuel is contained within thousands of long, thin tubes, called cladding, made of a zirconium alloy. These perform well during normal operation; however, the zirconium cladding imposes limitations on these power plants. As these fuel rods exist in a water environment around 300°C, the metal cladding will oxidize. Regulations exist limiting the amount of oxidation before the fuel must be removed. Furthermore, this oxidation reaction with water becomes autocatalytic at temperatures above 1200°C, so an operating reactor must be designed to never exceed this temperature. The reaction produces hydrogen gas, which led to several explosions during the Fukushima accident. The events at Fukushima have led to an increased interest in a previously existing industry-wide endeavor to develop more accident tolerant fuels (ATF). These ATF would meet the stated objective of having similar or better performance during normal operation and improved safety performance during accidents. One such ATF option is a SiC Ceramic Matrix Composite, designed with three layers – an inner layer of monolithic SiC, a middle layer of wound SiC fibers in a SiC matrix, and a thin outer layer to protect the fibers from contact with water. Previous work by the group has demonstrated SiC to have an oxidation rate three orders of magnitude slower than zirconium alloys currently used, without a runaway reaction at 1200°C. SiC is not without its drawbacks. As a ceramic, SiC will have a brittle failure mechanism. At MIT, experimental facilities exist to expose samples of this proposed cladding to steam at temperatures up to 1600°C and quench the sample in water, similar to what happened at Fukushima. The strength of the sample can be measured at each step. The UROP will assist in the operation of these facilities. To truly understand what is happening in the samples, a large amount of SEM, EDS, and other investigative techniques will be employed. The bulk of this UROP will be the training and use of these techniques to determine the phenomena occurring at a micrometer scale.

Neutron Spectroscopy Using Liquid Scintillator Detectors

Contact: Prof. Areg Danagoulian

Geant4 simulation of ionizing track width in a liquid scintillator

UROP Description: Liquid scintillators are widely used for detecting fast (E > 1MeV) neutrons. However, these detectors measure only deposited energy, which is only part of a neutron's energy. Hence the observed energy distribution doesn't correspond to the real neutron energy distribution. The purpose of this project is to model the response function of the detector using MCNP or Geant4, and use that in deconvolution techniques to determine the neutron's energy distribution. The student will perform simulations of the scintillator, extract the response function, and use that to develop an algorithm for extracting the neutron's kinetic energy. Such information can be pivotal when identifying the neutron source. At the end of the projects the student will work in a lab to acquire neutron data, and use that to test the algorithms.

Pileup in Gamma Detectors

Contact: Prof. Areg Danagoulian

Example of pileup in gamma ray detectors

UROP Description: Gamma detection is by far the most common method of detecting, localizing and identifying various radioactive sources and nuclear materials. When exposed to intense radiation, the gamma detectors develop "pileup": the gamma hits overlap, making it impossible for the detector's electronics to resolve them individually. This results in distortions of the reconstructed energy distribution and can severely limit the capabilities of the detector. Major progress can be achieved by studying the statistical nature of pileup, developing models of pileup's effects on spectral information, and finally using that to develop methods of deconvolving the observed spectra to reconstruct the correct energy distribution of the incident gammas. In this project the student will use their knowledge of probability theory to model the pileup's effects. This will become the basis of the necessary deconvolution algorithms for removing the effects of pileup and thus extracting the correct spectra. Finally, experiments with gamma detectors will be performed to test these algorithms. Coding: solid skills in at least one data analysis environment, such as python, MATLAB, or ROOT. Very desirable: knowledge of C/C++. Math: good understanding of theory of probability. Desirable: understanding of Monte Carlo methods. Required: a desire to analyze data, code simulations, and perform lab work. An interest in nuclear security.

Effect of different surface treatments on flow boiling CHF

Contact: Dr. Tom McKrell

Schematic of where CHF is likely to occur, and photo of CHF experimental setup

UROP Description: Accurate specification of the thermal margins in nuclear power plant are pivotal to plant safety as well as plant economics. One of these thermal margins is critical heat flux (CHF) which plays a key role in reactor performance both during normal operation as well as in certain accident scenarios. The maximum power density that can be handled by a cooling system based on the nucleate boiling is roughly proportional to the CHF. Once CHF is reached a rapid excursion in surface temperature ensues if the heat flux is not reduced. Accordingly, a higher CHF value is often desirable. In the case of reactor designs that employ in-vessel retention (IVR), during a severe accident the space between the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) and the outer insulation would be flooded with water. In this way the decay heat from the corium is removed by conduction through the RPV wall followed by flow boiling on the outer surface of the RPV. It is crucial to be under the CHF limit as flow boiling from the outer surface of the vessel is the only way to eliminate decay heat from the molten fuel. Therefore, pushing CHF to a higher value could potentially provide a great deal of advantage. This UROP project will focus on the development of different surface treatments that have the potential to enhance the CHF value. The work will be predominantly experimental. The student will learn about different surface treatment methods and employ various surface characterization techniques (such as SEM/EDS, contact angle, and etc.), with potential for some CHF testing of the surfaces created in our flow loop.

MIT Deep Borehole Project: Use of Zinc Filler in Used Fuel Assemblies

Contact: Prof. Michael Driscoll
UROP Description: Removal of decay heat from spent nuclear fuel assemblies while minimizing fuel temperatures is a challenge for all fuel cycle back end activities. The concept to be explored in this project is the use of zinc to fill intra-assembly voids (i.e., coolant passages). Zinc has a very high thermal conductivity, is available as ZnAl casting alloys at a reasonable cost, and helps provide corrosion protection as well as crush resistance. The particular application of interest is for disposal of intact used fuel assemblies in deep boreholes, but the concept is also potentially advantageous for shallower mined repositories. The project goal is to fully explore this innovation, including laboratory testing where appropriate.

Polarized light detection on Alcator C-Mod

Contact: Bob Mumgaard

Fisheye interior view of the Alcator C-Mod fusion reactor

UROP Description: Fusion promises to provide inexhaustable, low waste, universally accessible energy. If we can get it to work. Alcator C-Mod is the largest fusion experiment at any university and one of the main research reactors in the world. We are upgrading a critical detector system on this experiment which measures the geometry of the magnetic field using polarized light. This system enables experiments determing how the shape of the "magnetic bottle" affects the plasma stability, sustainability, and turbulence. Basically how well it contains its heat and particles and for how long. The existing high sensitivity detectors will be replaced with a first-of-a-kind detection system that allows the polarization angle of the light emitted from a particle beam injected into the plasma to be measured to better that 0.1degrees in four wavelengths simultaneously in a configuration called a polychrometer. These polychrometers are large opto-thermo-mechanical devices that house avalanche photo diodes and thin film interference filters. This upgrade is part of a collaboration with Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and will be constructed over the late summer and Fall semester and then operate during the time afterwards. The UROP will be help us assemble and align these polychrometers, construct the control and power electronics, commission the systems, develop control software and use the system and participate in plasma physics experiments doing some physics (If it works! Fingers crossed..). Desirable skills are mechanical aptitude, ability to solder, knowledge of optics and programming in python.

Biosphere and Receptor Modeling for Deep Borehole Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Contact: Ethan Bates
UROP Description: With the shelving of the Yucca mountain shallow mined repository project, the United States government is back to evaluating a wide range of geologic disposal concepts. One of the most technologically advanced, robust, and promising concepts is deep borehole disposal, which has received attention at MIT for over 20 years. Deep borehole disposal requires drilling 3-5 km into basement rock (crystalline) and emplacing nuclear waste canisters far beneath active water flows and aquifers. We are currently developing the next iteration of MIT’s reference design for a deep borehole repository. The current effort includes a detailed performance assessment model, which will allow for sensitivity to be understood and design optimization. Performance evaluation of any geologic repository is highly dependent on the biosphere and human activity assumptions that are used to convert radionuclide leakage into absorbed dose measures. However, there are no current dose regulations or standards for any U.S. repository other than Yucca Mountain. Thus, new regulations will have to be developed, but for the purposes of current scoping calculations and design, it is important to have baseline model for calculating absorbed doses.

Upgrade of Cheng and Todreas Correlation for prediction Wire-wrapped Rod Bundle Pressure Drop

Contact: Prof. Neil Todreas

Typical SFR wire-wrapped assembly and rod configuration

UROP Description: The Cheng and Todreas correlation (CT) developed at MIT in the early 80s is the most widely used correlation for predicting pressure drop in a wire-wrapped rod bundles. Our recent study shows that CT is the best correlation among several similar purposed correlations regarding the application range and prediction accuracy. New worldwide interest in sodium cooled fast reactors raises the necessity of existence of a sound correlation for pressure drop calculation across a wire-wrapped fuel bundle. Although CT has been identified to be the best correlation for this purpose, there are several areas that can be upgraded to make its prediction even better. This project will enhance the formulation of CT and verify its improved prediction capability by comparison to the available published data. We will also explore how the upgraded CT can be used for verification of the accuracy of the calculation results of bundle friction factor for wire-wrapped rod bundle by the computational fluid dynamic method. Desirable technical background: 1) Thermal hydraulics, 2) MATLAB, 3) Excel

Preventing Tritium Escape from Fluoride-salt-cooled High-temperature Reactors (FHRs)

Contact: Charles Forsberg

Plant layout of the FHR salt-cooled reactor

UROP Description: The FHR is a new reactor that uses a high temperature fluoride salt coolant, high-temperature nuclear fuel, and a Nuclear Air-Brayton Combined Cycle (NACC) power conversion system. NACC uses the same technology found in natural gas plants and enables the FHR to operate with a base-load efficiency of 42% and produce peak power by adding natural gas after nuclear heat to raise air temperatures. In the peak power mode, the natural gas to electricity efficiency is 66%--the most efficient method on earth to convert a combustible fuel into electricity. One technical challenge is that neutron interactions with the coolant generate significant radioactive tritium (the radioactive form of hydrogen) that can diffuse through hot NACC heat exchangers to the atmosphere. The UROP is to investigate a new method to remove tritium from the liquid salt before it can escape the reactor. It is proposed to use a tritium absorber made of wires of nickel or another metal that contain a compound such as LaNi5 that forms a stable hydride with the tritium. The absorber would be similar to steel wool where the 700°C salt would flow by the wires, the tritium would diffuse through the metal, and the tritium would react with a material such as LaNi5 to form a stable compound of hydrogen. Tritium (hydrogen) diffuses very rapidly through some metals at high temperatures. The filter would be replaced when sufficient tritium had been absorbed and be the final waste form—or processed to recover the tritium for industrial or laboratory use. The initial technological application is for the FHR. The other possible longer-term application is fusion where some proposed fusion reactors have liquid salt coolants with tritium and thus a need for methods to remove that tritium from the coolant. The UROP is to investigate and design such a tritium trap for tritium in a 700°C fluoride salt. Experiments may be done using regular hydrogen.

A High-Temperature Reactor with Stored Heat for Variable Electricity Output

Contact: Charles Forsberg

Plant layout of the FHR salt-cooled reactor

UROP Description: The FHR is a new reactor that uses a high temperature fluoride salt coolant, high-temperature nuclear fuel, and a Nuclear Air-Brayton Combined Cycle (NACC) power conversion system. NACC uses the same technology found in natural gas plants and enables the FHR to operate with a base-load efficiency of 42% and produce peak power by adding natural gas after nuclear heat to raise air temperatures. In the peak power mode, the natural gas to electricity efficiency is 66%. This efficiency is higher than any other method to convert a combustible fuel to electricity because added heat is above the “low-temperature” nuclear heat at 700°C. It is proposed to use stored heat to replace the natural gas to produce a zero-carbon variable source of electricity. In a low-carbon world the energy sources are nuclear and renewables. One of the consequences of large-scale deployment of wind or solar is that at times of high wind or solar output, the market price of electricity approaches zero. This cheap electricity can be used to charge a heat storage device using electricity to heat firebrick to high temperatures (1300°C)—the same temperatures as heating air in the gas turbine with natural gas. Because the efficiency of converting electricity to heat is 100% and the efficiency of converting heat to electricity is 66%, the round trip efficiency of electricity to heat to electricity is about 66%--equal to some other electricity storage systems. Advances in gas turbines are expected to raise this conversion efficiency to >70% by 2020. This matches many existing electricity storage devices. One has an advanced nuclear power plant where the reactor operates at base load but the electricity output to the grid is variable based on demand. By coupling the gas turbine to the FHR and a stored heat source, a zero-carbon variable electricity on demand system is created with the nuclear power plant operating economically at a constant load. The UROP is to begin development of the electrically-heated high-temperature firebrick storage system that couples to the gas turbine to boost gas-turbine temperatures after nuclear heating of the compressed air.

Carbon nanotubes as piezoresistive sensors in cement

Contact: Dr. John Germaine
UROP Description: The mechanical performances of the cement used in oil wells need to be periodically evaluated. In collaboration with Schlumberger Doll Research we are investigating the use of piezoresistive mechanical sensors, such as carbon nanotubes and carbon fibers, embedded in the cement. In this project we propose (1) to study the piezorestive responses of CNT/cement composites (2) to check the chemo/mechanical properties of the composites by using a wide range of techniques such as: calorimetry, flattened Brazilian test, SEM, TEM, XRD, TGA, BET. Prerequisites: Enthusiasm. Desirable background in one of the following topics: Material Science, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering. Lab work experience is very useful. Time Commitment: 40 hours per week between the labs in the Civil Engineering and Environmental Department and the labs in the Department of Materials and Mechanical Sciences of Schlumberger Doll Research.

Expanding cement for oil well applications

Contact: Dr. John Germaine
UROP Description: The development of new cement formulations is crucial for the safe and long lasting life of gas and oil wells. In collaboration with the research laboratories in Schlumerger we are investigating the impact of innovative agents in the cement paste. A wide range of techniques is used to test and characterize the chemo-mechanical properties of the cement samples, both at the nano and macroscopic scale: nanoindentation, nanoscratching, SEM, TEM, WDS, XRD, TGA, BET…. We are looking for a student to assist with synthesis and characterization of cementitious samples to help us identifying features which can contribute to the successful performance of the cement. Prerequisites: Enthusiasm. Desirable background in one of the following topics: Material Science, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering. Lab work experience can be useful. Time Commitment: 40 hours per week between the labs in the Civil Engineering and Environmental Department and the labs in the Department of Materials and Mechanical Sciences of Schlumberger Doll Research.