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John Stempien

Attendees of the 2013 American Nuclear Society Student Conference.

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Students of nuclear science and technology learned from experts in the field, presented their unique research, and captured on video what it means to be a nuclear scientist or nuclear engineer last week at the 2013 American Nuclear Society Student Conference. The first ever “I’m a Nuke” videos will be featuring nuclear science and technology students from across the world who participated in the conference hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Student Section of the American Nuclear Society.

The conference theme was the Public Image of the Nuclear Engineer. This was based on the conflicting views of the nuclear industry which many continue to hold. Although nuclear energy is safe, clean, and reliable, it has many obstacles in convincing the public of its successes. Our Theme Director, Mark Reed, interviewed and filmed conference attendees to create the “I’m a Nuke” videos. We captured the many faces of nuclear professionals to show that they are a diverse group all working to leverage the benefits society can realize from nuclear science. We plan to post the video on social media sites as well as share it throughout different media avenues in hopes of bringing a new generation of great ideas and great passion to the country.

The conference was led by three Co-Chairs: Nathan A. Gibson G, Ekaterina D. Paramonova ’13, and myself, with many amazing volunteers from the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department helping to make one of the largest and most professional student conferences for students in nuclear science and engineering a success.

Planning began one year ago at the 2012 ANS Student Conference and brought many interesting challenges and learning opportunities which don’t always get taught in a classroom. For example, planning a boat cruise for 500 people is not taught at 9:30 a.m. in Neutron Interactions, but it may be just as difficult to track down the caterer to get food served as it is to track down a scattered neutron.

Commissioner George Apostolakis, Ph.D., of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) served as the conference keynote speaker. “The theme for this year’s ANS Student Conference will be an interesting topic to explore,” stated Apostolakis in his remarks preceding the conference. “I plan to speak about my views on what shapes the public’s image, to provide some insights about how the NRC tries to engender public confidence in our work, and to offer my thoughts on how to shape the public image of nuclear engineers in the future.”

Students at the conference had access to the latest nuclear developments from industry, research, and academia. A team of nuclear engineers from Argonne National Laboratory presented a workshop on Generation IV fast reactors. They presented the physics behind fast reactors, which can use up the hazardous waste created from commercial (water-cooled) reactors as fuel. “Fast reactors also extract about 100 times more energy from each pound of uranium and provide a large improvement in safety,” commented Roger Blomquist, a Principle Nuclear Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory.

Students presented 171 podium presentations and 65 posters, which set new records for American Nuclear Society student conferences. These presentations also highlighted the global nature of the field with 88 registrants with international citizenship. Whether it was students studying law, nuclear medicine, quantum physics, computer science, or thermodynamics, the variety of backgrounds were united in bringing the conversations of nuclear science and engineering to new heights. With continued conversation, the nuclear science and engineering students at MIT and across the country will continue to improve the public image of the nuclear engineer.