Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

NE Graduate school

  1. Apr 30, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I am currently a junior in mechanical engineering. After I graduate I plan on going to graduate school to obtain my PhD, I hope to eventually get a career in research probably at a university because I also enjoy teaching. As a mechanical engineer my interests have been primarily in fluid mechanics, heat transfer and applied mathematics. However after a lot of time and effort I have been unable to find anything in mechanical engineering that I find truly interesting that I would want to research.

    Recently I have been reading about Nuclear engineering and in particular applications of plasmas and fusion power. After reading about it for awhile I find these topics extremely fascinating and I am now considering going to graduate school for NE as opposed to Mech E.

    I am just wondering if making the switch from ME to NE is possible for graduate school, and more importantly will I be at a disadvantage since my BS is in something different? If I will be at a disadvantage what could I do in my last year as an undergraduate to make up for this?

    I would really like to go to one of the top schools in the country for whatever I decide to do. In mechanical engineering I believe I am capable of this. My GPA is 3.75 and have been involved in multiple research projects, one of which was at NASA, but all of the research I have done so far has been focused on aerospace engineering applications and has involved wind tunnels (so nothing related to NE).

    Any advice would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    A major part of nuclear engineering is the fluid mechanics and heat transfer aspects. It is possible to focus almost entirely on those aspects and have only fundamentals level knowledge of the nuclear aspects. I would suggest taking the intro level nuke courses to give yourself that base level knowledge and from that point you should be good to go for taking graduate level nuclear courses specializing in the mechanical aspects.

    To give you an idea of how closely nuclear and mechanical engineering are related, at Penn State for example you can dual major in both and it only requires one extra semester of classes.

    If you want to focus on fusion power research you may need more physics-related courses in addition/stead of nuclear engineering classes which are almost entirely about fission power.
  4. Apr 30, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the reply. I definitely want to go the fusion/plasma route. I have always really liked physics. In fact I am not sure why I didnt just major in physics to begin with.
  5. May 3, 2009 #4
    You would probably benefit from taking some electrical engineering classes as well if you plan to persue study of plasma physics. I'm not sure if it was required for ME undergrads, but the NRE undergrads had to take electromagnetics when I went to school. I personally wish I had taken a more advanced circuits course as well before I took my plasma physics course.
  6. May 6, 2009 #5
    Does anyone have any advice on what graduate schools I should be looking at? I think I want to focus on Fusion and plasma physics. I want to get my PhD because I want to do research and at some point I think I will want to be a professor at a University.
  7. May 6, 2009 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Princeton has program in plasma physics.

    As far as nuclear engineering with a specialty in fusion, U. Wiscosin, U. Michigan, U. Illinois, MIT, RPI, Georgia Tech, PSU, UCal-Berkeley and Santa Barbara, are a few of the top of my head. Maybe U. of Florida - Gainesville and U. of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK is close to Oak Ridge).

    Some programs are stronger than others, and it is highly dependent on the faculty.
  8. May 9, 2009 #7
    University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign is big on plasma/fusion studies, there are many professors whose research in on those topics and there are many labs and courses pertaining to it. My friend currently goes there and is doing plasma research.

    center for plasma material interactions

    summary of engineering research - nuclear, plasma, and radiological engineering (email professors)
    http://engineering.illinois.edu/com...iological Engineering&part=_master_&year=2007
    plasma physics
    http://engineering.illinois.edu/com...iological Engineering&part=_master_&year=2007
    http://engineering.illinois.edu/com...iological Engineering&part=_master_&year=2007

    some professors you can email:
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/miley.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/ruzic.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/dolan.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/singer.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/jurczyk.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/stubbers.php [Broken]

    thermal hydraulics/multiphase flow/mechanical related stuff
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/jones.php [Broken]
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/faculty/uddin.php [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  9. May 14, 2009 #8
    In a different forum I mentioned that I want to get involved in NE because I want to do something in alternative energy but I dont think solar and wind are enough. I also mentioned that I am very interested in fusion. I got the following response and I was wondering if anyone would agree with it.

    "I can tell you a little about the plasma science/fusion area - I was trying to get into that at MIT as well. I would avoid connecting it with alternative energy, that is not really a focus. Even assuming you could get cold fusion, the fuel sources are not that ecologically friendly to acquire. The process is more interesting for the basic science than for power generation."

    Isnt the whole point of fusion generating energy? I also thought fusion was fairly eco friendly, at least compared to fission.
  10. May 14, 2009 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor


    I can see why the person you quote above was having a hard time getting into MIT. "The fuel sources are not
    that ecologically friendly to acquire?" - the fuel source is WATER.

    Yes, one needs to do an isotopic separation to obtain the desired deuterium vis-a-vis ordinary light
    hydrogen - but that process is not environmentally unfriendly.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  11. May 14, 2009 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    The person was probably thinking of tritium production, which can be reduced if one does DD fusion instead to DT fusion.

    D-He3, an aneutronic reaction, is even better, but one has to produce He-3, which comes from beta decay of T.

    If one uses reactions like D+T, one has to contend with high energy neutrons which will activate the fusion reactor structure overtime, so even if there is no radioactive products from the fusion reaction, there will be radioactive structural materials from those parts of the reactor vessel that become activated.

    As for solar and wind, if one considers the availabilty, which is about something like 15-30% (geographically dependent), then one has to build 4 or 5 MWe of solar or wind to replace 1 MWe of nuclear or fossil. This is because the sun doesn't shine 24 hrs on a given area, except perhaps for the Arctic and Antarctic in the summer, and then there are clouds in most areas, and the wind doesn't blow continuously. So the get the same MWd/yr, one has to build more generating capacity for renewables AND build a storage system to store excess power/energy during the generation period in order to supply the grid during off-generation periods.
  12. May 14, 2009 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor


    Correct - and I would only add that in regard to the need for storage - one needs to know the magnitude
    of the amount of energy one needs to store in order to really appreciate the magnitude of the task.

    A typical large 1 Gigawatt electric power plant in one day puts out an amount of electrical energy that is
    equivalent to about 20 kilotons - or equivalent to the energy of the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

    A solar power plant with a duty cycle of 50% - since the Sun is guaranteed to be below the plant's
    horizon about 50% of the time is going to have to be able to store abut half a Nagasaki bomb's worth of
    energy in order to maintain its operation through the night.

    If the solar power plant were to replace California's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant which is about
    a 2 Gigawatt electric power plant - it would need to store an entire Nagasaki bomb's worth of energy to
    take it through the night.

    I've talked to solar power proponents that want to hook up a "couple hundred" car batteries to store
    the electrical energy. They haven't done the arithmetic. Some are more thoughtful and suggest
    storing the heat. Of course, if you do that - you have to account for the fact that you can only turn
    a fraction of that heat into electricity. Therefore, if you want to replace Diablo Canyon; you need to
    store 60 kilotons or 3 Nagasaki bomb's worth of heat energy to provide power through the night.

    The storage of that much energy isn't something to "sweep under the rug" as so many solar proponents
    seem to do.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  13. May 14, 2009 #12
    I thought that person was a little off with that comment. I am still pretty new to this field seeing as my undergrad education is mechanical engineering.

    I am wondering if anyone has any advice as to what classes I should take next semester. Like I mentioned about I am interested in fusion for grad school. Next semester the physics department at my school is offering E&M and Plasma Physics. Would these be good classes to take so that I have some of the basics for when I go to grad school. Also, I have taken quite a few courses on Fluid mechanics, heat transfer and thermo and really enjoyed them, would my knowledge of these subjects be useful for research in fusion and plasmas?

  14. May 14, 2009 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    E&M and Plasma Physics are requisites for fusion.

    Fluid mechanics, heat transfer and thermo are part of a basic nuclear engineering curriculum. Although fusion is the primary thermal source, most likely the plant will use some thermal -> mechanical -> electrical energy conversion. One possible alternative would be plasma thermal to electrical via direct conversion, which has been proposed for mirror reactors.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook