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!

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.

Workforce and Equipment Management for an Offshore Floating Nuclear Power Plant

Contact: Jacopo Buongiorno

Rendering of the NSE floating nuclear power plant

UROP Description: NSE is developing a novel offshore floating nuclear power plant concept ( The plant is moored 5-10 miles off the coast, thus an important question concerns transportation of personnel, equipment and supplies to/from the plant. The most efficient (cost- and logistics-wise) approach is for the crew to operate in long shifts (e.g. monthly or semi-monthly) with onboard living quarters. Personnel could be transported either by boat or helicopter. Transport of materials, i.e., food, fuel, equipment supplies and chemicals, could be done by supply boat. Heavy loads would be lifted off by crane at the plant. In this UROP project we shall review the experience in oil/gas offshore platform operations, nuclear power plants and naval supply chain practices; we will establish staffing requirements, and then develop an original optimized strategy for the floating nuclear power plant. Knowledge of prior practices or of nuclear phenomena is not needed for this work. In this project you would be joining a team of three professors and six students.

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.

Developing Spectral Control of Indium-Tin-Oxide for Boiling Studies

Contact: Prof. Jacopo Buongiorno

Quenching an ITO heater

UROP Description: Indium-Tin-Oxide (ITO) is a wildly popular material in several industries because of its high conductivity and visible transparency. ITO is used in many commercial products including LCD displays, solar panels and touch panels. ITO is also used as an optical coating because of its infrared (IR) reflection, high stability and minimal surface roughness. The Reactor Thermal Hydraulics group in Course 22 uses ITO for infrared thermography, a technique where the temperature of a boiling surface can be measured with great accuracy using a high-speed infrared camera. This UROP project will focus on the development of a highly specialized ITO coating for a new technique currently under development. The work will be predominantly experimental and the student will learn how to use several pieces of equipment for depositing and analyzing the ITO. Further work, depending upon the success of the project, may include using the newly developed ITO to study boiling heat transfer.

Applications of Ultra-Rapid Quenching to Metal Forming and Flash Freezing of Food

Contact: Prof. Jacopo Buongiorno

Quenching a superheated fuel rod

UROP Description: Quenching refers to the rapid cooling of a very hot solid object by exposure to a much cooler liquid. Quenching phenomena occur in nature and industry. For example, when molten lava is spewed from an undersea volcanic eruption, it is quenched by the surrounding water. Humans have been relying on quenching in the making of metal objects for centuries. It is well known that steels can be hardened by heating and subsequent rapid cooling, a process that is done by immersion in water (hard quench) or oils (slow quench). Flash freezing of food can be done by quenching it in liquid carbon dioxide (dry ice). Quenching also plays an important role in mitigating the consequences of loss-of-coolant accidents in nuclear reactors. We have developed new nano-engineered surface coatings that allow for order-of-magnitude acceleration of the quenching process. In this UROP project, we will explore the potential merits and feasibility of such ultra-rapid quenching coatings to applications such as metal forming and food flash-freezing. The work will be mostly analytical, with potential for some experimental work down the road, depending on outcome of initial assessments.

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.