The world’s energy problems cannot be solved without nuclear energy, says Prof. Ian Hutchinson, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. And with a majority of graduate students in nuclear science and engineering coming from other fields, graduate fellowships are vital to address the global energy crisis, he says.
Hutchinson offers student Matthew Memmott as an example. When Memmott arrived at MIT in 2005 with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, he had little specific preparation for a nuclear science doctoral program.
Memmott spent many hours studying and researching to catch up to his peers who had nuclear engineering undergraduate degrees. His thesis is now complete and he will be working on nuclear plant design for a semester at the Idaho National Lab.
Fellowships give first-year students like Memmott the chance to learn the basic science, economics, and politics of the nuclearfield, says Hutchinson. With fellowship support, students are able to develop a strong foundation before beginning their research, he says.
Almost 60 percent of these incoming graduate students in 2006 had undergraduate degrees in other fields, such as chemistry, physics, or marine, mechanical, or electrical engineering.
“There’s a normalizing process in the first year or so when they basically master the core of the discipline. It’s very advantageous for us to have fellowships we can offer to excellent students from a wide range of backgrounds,” says Hutchinson.
At MIT, undergraduate enrollment in nuclear science and engineering is now at an all-time high, says Hutchinson. Students are attracted to the department’s application-oriented education, he says. The field is vital for nuclear energy, but also includes many other nuclear and radiation applications, such as medical, industrial, and security imaging, plasma physics for fusion, quantum computing based on nuclear spin interactions, and radiation biology. Graduate applications have also surged.
“Students at MIT are reflecting the opinion of the public, thoughtful policymakers, and concerned citizens, that nuclear energy has animportant role to play in solving energy problems,” says Hutchinson.