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Joint Major (with Nuclear Engineering)

  1. Apr 2, 2013 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am a high school senior. I got accepted to UC Berkeley, and will be attending the school this coming fall. I want to pursue nuclear engineering in college.
    Since UC Berkeley offers joint major programs, I would like to pursue a joint major (nuclear + another engineering discipline.) My reason for doing a joint major is because I want to strengthen and broaden my knowledge, as an engineer, and present myself with wider range of career options (my ultimate goal is to become a nuclear engineer, with focus in nuclear energy)

    I have three options:
    EECS and NE - EEC is important in NE
    MSE and NE - important for core design?
    ME and NE - I'm not sure how ME would help me as a nuclear engineer.

    Could you please explain how each engineering major benefit me as a nuclear engineer? Which is the best option, in terms of career opportunity? Which is the best option for preparing me to be a reactor core designer?

    If I sound ignorant, please enlighten me.

    Note: I have completed 45 college units, so I believe that I am able to pursue a joint major.

    Thank you,
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2013 #2
    Hi xholicwriter!

    Congratulations on your acceptance to Cal! I'm in a similar boat with you; I'm a current high school senior coming to Cal for Civil (&Enviro) Engineering.

    I won't be the first to answer your question since I wouldn't know enough/have enough experience to give you the right guidance. I do wonder, though-- are your 45 college units from APs? And if so, are you confident those all transfer? I was personally saddened a bit at that quite a few AP exams of mine won't help me in terms of credits.

  4. Apr 4, 2013 #3

    Hi Daniel,

    Thank you for your reply.


    Most of these units are from college courses. I only have about 10 AP units (I'm pretty sure that they are transferable.)

    See you on April 20th :D

  5. Apr 6, 2013 #4


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    I had one colleague in university who did a double major in EE and NE. His focus was on instrumentation/detection and monitoring systems. One could also get into control systems.

    MSE would be useful since nuclear systems are structures composed of materials. Corrosion and structural integrity are two key issues in the operation of nuclear reactors. Core design wouldn't necessarily require a knoweldge of materials, since the fuel systems is pretty much defined, and one only needs some knowledge of the composition of the fuel, burnable absorbers, control elements, coolant (pressurized water or steam), and core structural materials. The neutronics codes are well established. It is a matter of getting experience in core design philosophies, which themselves are fairly mature, and are generally unit specific (with similar designs for similar reactors, i.e., sibling units).

    Much of nuclear engineering is ME. The purpose of nuclear energy is to produce thermal energy. In an LWR/HWR, a working fluid transfers the thermal energy, which eventually is used to generate steam. Steam drives a set of turbines (high pressure to low pressure) after which the steam is condensed and the liquid returned to the steam generator. In BWRs, the steam is generated in the core, and the condensed liquid is returned to the core in the feedwater system. In PWRs, the core and primary circuit remain liquid for the most part, except for nucleate boiling in the hottest regions of the core, and the thermal energy is transferred from the primary cooling system to a secondary system in the 'steam generator'. In the secondary side, the steam is passed through turbines and precipitated in the condenser, and the liquid is sent back to the steam generator.

    Corrosion and structural integrity are two key areas of concern in nuclear plants, and both require a knowledge of materials (MSE) and mechanics of materials (ME). With respect to mechanics, this really implies thermo-mechanics, because one must understand the thermal dependencies on the mechanical properties.

    BWRs - http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/03.pdf
    PWRs - http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/04.pdf
    More general - http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/unit3.html

    There are more advanced reactor concepts involving liquid metals and gases. Liquid metals are used in fast reactors, some which may employ steam cycles for power generation. Fast reactors generally operate at higher temperatures than LWRs/HWRs. There are also gas-cooled reactors, e.g., MAGNOX and AGRs, both of which are CO2 cooled. Gas-cooled reactors may be used to heat a steam (Rankine) cycle, or may use a Brayton cycle for power generation. Some plants may combine cycles, e.g., Brayton + Rankine, but that can be very challenging.

    http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull313/31304793639.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Apr 6, 2013 #5
    Thank you very much for your reply,

    My interest, designing nuclear reactor core, is subject to change because I don't have much knowledge in order to decide what I love most.

    MSE seems to be the right supplementary major for me. My physics professor said that ME will be covered in my NE curriculum. With knowledge in MSE, I think I will be able to work with a variety of different reactor models, according to your information.

    I have read some of your posts and I heard you mentioned that multi-physics is a hot topic right now. How is multi-physics beneficial to nuclear engineering? What courses should I take in order to learn more about that topic?

    Also, I would like to ask about the future of nuclear engineering. Will it be good? I was always hoping that the public opinion will be in favor of nuclear engineering. After the Fukushima incident, people, however, are shy away from nuclear energy.

    Again, thank you!
  7. Apr 6, 2013 #6


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    Nuclear energy is fairly secure. If the US and W. Europe surrender their lead in nuclear energy, Russia, China and S. Korea, and perhaps India as well, will be happy to supply the world. The ME nations are interested in nuclear energy.

    ME (thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid mechanics) is part of a nuclear engineering curriculum, and usually EE courses (circuit theory and electromechanics).

    Multiphysics simulation has broad applications to any engineered system, whether it's engines (piston engines or turbines); structures; automotive, locomotive, or aeromotive systems; power generation (fossil, wind, hydraulic, nuclear) systems; aerospace systems; or whatever.

    https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=1269&mode=2&featurestory=DA_582160 [Broken]



    To be competent in multiphysics simulation one needs a sound foundation in the mathematics (PDEs and systems of coupled PDEs; tensor analysis/calculus is ideal) and the physics of materials (solids, fluids and gases) over a broad range of conditions: temperature, pressure, radiation.

    A combination of NE, ME and MSE is ideal. I did that as well as selected courses in EE and AeroE, as well as physics. Ideally, an engineer should have as much math and physics as possible.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Apr 6, 2013 #7

    jim hardy

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    Others have asked similar question and I give a sorta standard reply........

    Nuclear field is soooo wide ranging....

    you mentioned power...

    I worked in a power generating station, very unglamorous but tremendously interesting.
    A nuke plant is chock full of machinery, electrical and electronic equipment.
    Astronuc mentioned the systems , the machinery involved is huge.
    So either electrical or mechanical would directly apply.
    Control systems and electronics/computers will fit right into instrumentation which was what I did.

    A good friend of mine with a mechanical degree worked in core design at a reactor supplier, his specialty was finite element analysis and vibration in fuel assemblies.
    I regarded that type work as beyond my capability - too math intensive. But I envied him because he worked in a clean quiet office environment.
    It turned out he envied me because of my proximity to real machinery. He was fascinated by the "view from a height" of the entire plant and how the systems interact that one gets from working the instrument and control systems.
    So he took a job with a utility, became interested in operations, became a licensed senior reactor operator. That license atop a MSc and PE is a mighty good combination.
    He for last twenty years has provided oversight of emergency operating procedures , and interface between construction and the utility for retrofit projects.

    If you are the type who changes his own sparkplugs you'll do well in maintenance. That's where I stayed.
    Operations takes a certain personality - one must be not susceptible to overfocusing on any one thing and keep abreast of the whole plant status, that "view from a height".
    I would not have made a good operator for i get obsessive about problem solving. So i carried my weight in maintenance.

    Points being:
    1. nuclear plus electrical, mechanical or chemical will equip you well.
    2. you'll find what's your real field of interest after a working a while.
    3. the industry needs a mix of theoretical and practical people.

    Power industry and its suppliers will I believe be stable employment for the next few decades.

    Good luck to you!
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2013
  9. Apr 6, 2013 #8

    Thank you very much.

    Yes, I don't know why people don't support nuclear energy. In the worst case, I would move to other countries :D.

    Multi-physics is indeed interesting. My goal is to obtain a phd in nuclear engineering (I heard that there plenty of scholarships for nuclear engineering majors who want to pursue higher education.) I will seriously consider multi-physics as part of my study. Will a degree in MSE give me the knowledge of the physics of materials?

    Jim Hardy:

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience.

    I still have not yet discovered what type of person I am, so it would take some time to figure my true interest.

    I thought that maintenance is a boring and repetitive job (apparently, it is biased and ignorant.) I am curious to learn more about maintenance. What do you do on a daily basis? How is it interesting to you?

    I'm glad that the nuclear energy industry will continue to grow for the next few decades.

    Last edited: Apr 6, 2013
  10. Apr 6, 2013 #9


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    An MSE program, or one in condensed matter physics should give one the requisite background.

    Multiphysics in a reactor involves the neutronics, including the production of fission products, the thermo-mechancial behavior of the fuel (which is affected by fission products and transuranic production) and the cladding, the mechanics of the structural materials, and the thermo-fluid dynamcis of the coolant, which is usually covered by thermal-hydraulic codes or CFD. Usually the interface between coolant and cladding, which involves corrosion and crud development is handled in the fuel-cladding code, but there also should be a crud species transport and deposition model that is part of the coolant system.
  11. Apr 7, 2013 #10
    So it means that a MSE program will give me the background knowledge for multiphysics (in a reactor,) and I will need to study further during my graduate work?

    I just read the school description of the joint major, MSE / NE, and it says that MSE / NE is a challenging, yet rewarding one. I'm filled with excitement now!

    I would like to ask a foolish question :D. Is nuclear engineering the hardest and most physics-related engineering major? (I'm just curious. If it is, I can brag to my mom and dad :) )

    Thank you,
  12. Apr 7, 2013 #11


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    The combination of MSE/ME/NE would probably provide the best background for nuclear reactor and nuclear fuel technology.

    Nuclear engineering can be challenging, but so can other engineering discplines, especially if one strives to become proficient in the field. Advanced undergrad courses in electrical, civil, mechanical and aerospace engineering courses can be challenging, and graduate school even moreso.

    In materials science and engineering there is considerable effort in density-functional theory. "As one professor describes: his research interests are in the areas of predicting materials properties from first-principles (ab initio) computations; materials with energy related applications; density-functional theory; dynamical mean-field theory; transition-metal oxides; actinides, energy storage and conversion materials. His research focuses on predicting various materials properties using theoretical and computational methodologies. In particular, he is interested in materials which have potential applications for energy storage or conversion, such as battery cathodes, nuclear reactor fuels, thermoelectrics, hydrogen storage materials, etc. Understanding and capturing the physics of such a broad array of phenomena requires the use of a broad range of theories and techniques. Techniques applied in his research group range from classical molecular dynamics to density functional theory to the dynamical mean-field theory."

    Another term frequently heard with respect to materials is phase field theory.

    With respect to heat transfer, one will hear of 'conjugate heat transfer', at the interface between fuel rod cladding and coolant.

    With respect to structures and coolant, one may be interested in CFD and FSI (fluid-structure interaction).

    An example of some of the above:
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2013
  13. Apr 7, 2013 #12
    Thank you very much!

    Yes, I think all engineering disciplines are interrelated. I have to use all of them at one time or another.

    I think I can get a minor in ME if I take summer classes. I need to take three upper division electives. Which below courses would you recommend?

    Mec Eng 104, Engineering Mechanics II (Dynamics) 3
    Mec Eng 106, Fluid Mechanics 3
    Mec Eng 132, Dynamic Systems and Feedback
    Mec Eng 102A, Experimentation and Measurement 3
    Mec Eng 102B, Mechanical Engineering Design 3
    Mec Eng 107, Mechanical Engineering Laboratory 3
    Mec Eng 109, Heat Transfer

    Thank you
  14. Apr 7, 2013 #13


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    When I did my undergrad nuclear engineering program, Heat Transfer and Fluid Mechanics were requirements, so if that is case in one's program, then one can eliminate those if they are redundant. One would probably want Engineering Mechanics II (Dynamics) before Dynamic Systems and Feedback. The others, Eng 102A, 102B and 107 seem sequential, although one may not need 102B.
  15. Apr 7, 2013 #14
    Thank you!

    Now I have a good sense of what I will be doing in college. Studying!!! :D
  16. Apr 7, 2013 #15

    jim hardy

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    Maintenance in an operating plant is, let's be honest, not the highbrow side of the industry.
    It is long hours, rigorous proceduralization, and very little room for experimentation .
    Most of the electronic work is repetitive periodic testing and calibration.

    Where the fun comes in is troubleshooting when things go wrong.

    But it's along apprenticeship before you earn much latitude.

    Startup is a different story. If you can take a job at a plant that's still in construction and go through its startup you will learn 100X more and 100X faster.

    Engineers get tasked with a LOT of paperwork. Procedure reviews, system status tracking and the like.
    I was VERY fortunate - my bosses recognized that I was very good at helping the guys figure out problems, so I became a technical support engineer within the maintenance department.
    Honestly - I wasnt' that good at paperwork.
    Most of my last fifteen years I spent with the technicians figuring out problems that the procedures didn't solve or that the periodic tests uncovered.. And I taught a class or two in training.
    My avatar is a gizmo we built for testing the control rod drive system power cabinets. It enabled us to resolve some long standing and elusive troubles in that system.

    I loved it. But not everybody would,
    I posted this last year in PF:

    Or as I say,

    "Slaying dragons is more fun than cleaning them."

    good luck in your studies and in your career.

    old jim
  17. Apr 7, 2013 #16


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    During the summer after freshman year, I got a job on campus as a plumber's assistant. Most of the time, I fixed lavatory and toilets, but eventually, I got to work on condensate lines, then steam lines, as well as pumps, compressors, fans and motors. Working maintenance was very helpful in learning about systems - and I learned about good engineering based on fixing problems with equipment. Matters like clearance, structural support and plant layout became apparent, and I learned how not to do certain things.

    I also have great respect for craftsmen and the trades.
  18. Apr 7, 2013 #17

    "Slaying dragons is more fun than cleaning them."

    Haha, who knows, I might be interested in cleaning them :D. Maintenance seems to be interesting, although I am not fond of doing repetitive jobs.

    Thank you for your advice about startup. Maybe, it is a very good idea to get a job, after college, at a plant that is still in construction.

    Thank you!


    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Right now, I am looking for a work-study job. It would be awesome if I can find a working maintenance job on campus.

    Thank you!

    Last edited: Apr 7, 2013
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