Each year, the class takes on a different overall course project. It can range from something that's been topical in the news to just an idea that the instructor came up with.
The hardest part of developing the project assignment is finding a project that every student can contribute to, learn from, and care about.
— Dr. Short
The process of choosing a project isn’t as simple as finding an interesting problem. In the Nuclear Science and Engineering department, students are typically on one of three tracks: the fission track; the fusion track; or the nuclear science and technology track, which can range anywhere from materials science to quantum computing to safety, security, and proliferation. The hardest part of developing the project assignment is finding a project that every student can contribute to, learn from, and care about. Many projects would have been interesting to some students but not interesting to others. The project also had to be doable in a 13-week semester.
Before the Fall 2011 semester, we had a brainstorming meeting in the department to discuss possible topics for design courses. Ideas ranged all the way from designing a test reactor for testing new types of fuel to designing a robot to go in and clean up the Fukushima incident.
In the end, the project I settled upon for this class was the design of a combined nuclear reactor/biofuel system. There had been a number of recent studies about coupling nuclear to other energy sources, and I thought it would be a great way to highlight other ways nuclear power can be cleanly used on a large scale. Most folks tend to think of it as just for electricity, but this example highlighted making heat as well.
This project involved a huge range of topics, from chemical to nuclear to mechanical to fluid engineering. For the fission people, there was a core to design and there was a reactor around it. For the fusion people, there were lots of materials issues at very high temperatures. For the safety and security people, there was the safety and security of the material in your plant. For the materials science people, things are made out of materials, so there was a lot to attack there. There was something for everybody.
Some examples of projects undertaken in other iterations of Nuclear Systems Design Project are