Message from the Chair

A new academic year means saying hello to new faces and goodbye to old friends. In addition to a new cohort of more than 100 first-year undergraduate students and about 25 new graduate students, we are welcoming a new faculty member, Juliana Pacheco Duarte. She is returning to Madison after a few years as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech to strengthen our research portfolio in thermal-hydraulic and safety analysis of nuclear energy systems.

At the same time, we say farewell to Professor Douglass Henderson. He has provided leadership to our department and college in so many ways over his career. Within our EP community, his contributions include bringing his research expertise to new areas such as homeland security and radiation treatment planning, forging ties to the medical physics department to expand our research network and support the BSNE radiation science option, and leading our department as chair from 2015-2019. He also leaves a college-wide legacy with the long-standing Graduate Engineering Research Scholars (GERS) program and the brand new WiscProf program. GERS has a clear track record of creating a supportive environment for graduate students from underrepresented groups who go on to become future leaders in academia and beyond. WiscProf will expand access for our college to a pipeline of outstanding faculty prospects from diverse backgrounds, while providing them an opportunity to learn more about faculty life. On a personal note, Douglass has been an important mentor to me for 30 years and played a role in my own success. He will be missed by us all!

We were thrilled to play host to the Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp this summer, its first in-person offering since 2019! Prof. Adrien Couet became involved in the organizing committee in its third year (2018) where he led the effort to offer it in Paris in 2019, then bring it to Madison in 2022.  The participants came from a variety of countries and had backgrounds ranging from engineering to business to policy.  Activities included developing and pitching a novel business idea, touring the Shine Technologies facility in Janesville, WI, and visiting the unique experimental facilities our department has to offer. Hosting this event, focused on the entrepreneurial aspects of the vibrant nuclear energy economy, serves as a great complement to the many exciting research collaborations our faculty have with a plethora of startup companies who are working to deploy the next generation of reactors.

In addition to the innovative work of our nuclear engineers, our engineering mechanics faculty are continuing to push boundaries with their high-impact research. With a new National Science Foundation grant, Associate Professor Jacob Notbohm is studying how biological cells move in collective groups, which is an essential process in cancer invasion, tissue development and wound healing. This interdisciplinary research promises to offer a new means to predict how cell forces bring about the collective migration, which is the first step to controlling the migration for applications in improving human health. And Assistant Professor Ramathasan Thevamaran has received a 2022 NASA Early Career Faculty Award. The award will support his work developing advanced composite materials with exceptional mechanical properties and thermal stability for dimensionally stable structural components to be used in future large telescopes and space structures.

Our students continue to receive traditional academic recognition. Sam Garcia (BSNE ‘21) and Nick Thoreson (BSEP ’22) were both selected for the Department of Energy’s University Nuclear Leadership Fellowship (UNLP) as graduate students in our programs. Sam was also selected for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship—forcing him to choose between these two prestigious honors. One of our undergraduates also won a unique competition: Grace Stanke, a senior in nuclear engineering, was selected as Miss Wisconsin and will go on to compete in the Miss America competition in December. She is the first nuclear engineer to appear on the Miss America stage! Grace is using her platform to advance a social impact initiative around clean energy, with nuclear energy at its center.

With all of this activity, our entire EP community continues to work toward saving this planet and exploring the rest.

On, Wisconsin!

Paul Wilson

Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering