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

Thinking to study Nuclear engineering but need some advice

  1. Jun 25, 2013 #1
    Hello everyone, I am new to the forum , I really want to go into Nuclear engineering but I am a little bit afraid that It's going to be difficult.
    Is there anyone who is currently studying Nuclear engineering ?

    My questions are :

    Does it require too much Chemistry?
    I am very good at Maths and Physics, but I am really horrible at chemistry , by saying horrible I mean that I failed Chem class the first time, the second time I took it I got a C
    Currently I am studying in a community college in Minnesota, but I want to transfer to Wisconsin Madison.

    Will I have to take so much Chemistry ?

    Thank you, I would appreciate an answer for my questions, I've tried asking my professors in college but they don't seem to know much about Nuclear Engineering.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 26, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I believe the only actual chemistry class that was required in my curriculum was the basic general freshmen chemistry class. That being said, a general knowledge of chemistry is important in the study of most nuclear engineering fields. If nuclear engineering is what you want to do, don't let your fear of chemistry hold you back though. There's no shame in having to re-take a course, the second time around you will most likely ace everything and become much more confident in your abilities.
  4. Jun 26, 2013 #3
    Thank you sir, I appreciate your response.
  5. Jun 26, 2013 #4
    Most programs required only basic chemistry and the only people I know of that take more are involved in fuel cycle related research.
  6. Jun 27, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    U. of Wisconsin- Madison has a good nuclear engineering program. There is no such thing as too much chemistry, but most basic science and engineering programs have a one year introductory course in chemistry. The closest one might come to chemistry would be a course in radiochemistry (if one is offered in a nuclear engineering program), or otherwise, one would have it in an introductory course on nuclear physics and radioactivity.

    It is interesting that one indicates one is very good at Maths and Physics, but horrible in Chemistry. What was it about Chemistry that one found difficult or challenging?

    Community college professors would likely not have much knowledge about nuclear engineering, unless they were somehow involved with the nuclear industry or had a nuclear engineering degree.
  7. Jun 27, 2013 #6
    That's what sets nuclear engineering apart from chemical engineers. As nuclear engineers we are more interested in the nucleus of an atom. Anyway I only had to take the introductory chemistry sequence and a radiochemistry class, radiochemistry used to be called radioisotope lab and it was a physics course. Overall it's not too bad, and some basic chemistry helps you understand your elements a little better.
  8. Jun 27, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    There is a fair amount of applied chemistry in a nuclear plant.

    When simulating nuclear fuel, the fuel behavior involves chemistry (fission product behavior in a ceramic UO2 matrix). In a nuclear reactor or nuclear plant, there is chemistry in the oxidation and corrosion of metal alloys, which is influenced by the water chemistry in both the primary and secondary cooling systems.

    Separately, if one does radioisotope production, chemistry is involved in that.

    The manufacture of UO2, starts with a chemical process of converting UF6 to the final product.

    Spent fuel reprocessing and high level waste (HLW) involves a significant amount of chemistry.
  9. Jun 27, 2013 #8

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Any boiler needs attention to the water chemistry. At high temperature and pressure corrosion becomes a genuine problem. The water is kept extremely pure.
    Fortunately one can get by without much organic chemistry.

    In a nuclear power plant, basics of mechanical and electrical engineering and automatic controls are a big help in understanding the systems. Probably a nuclear program will include these.

    old jim
  10. Jun 28, 2013 #9
    I'd like to talk to you more about the industry, you always give excellent insight on what goes on outside of school. If someone was to go strictly based on the curriculum you wouldn't think nuclear engineering involved much chemistry, I knew it involved some mainly enrichment but never really thought about the other things mentioned.
  11. Jun 28, 2013 #10
    Yes we are required to take a circuit analysis course, and

    Strength of materials
    Heat transfer
    Fluid dynamics
    Engineering materials
    Mechanics of materials lab
  12. Jun 28, 2013 #11
    I'm a PhD student at the UW-Madison in nuclear engineering. It's a good school (I may be biased).

    Here is the official undergrad curriculum guide:
    http://www.engr.wisc.edu/cmsdocuments/EP-curriculum-nuclear-engineering.pdf [Broken]

    The only chemistry requirement is general freshman chemistry.

    Nuclear engineering is actually a fairly broad field. Like any other major, there are sub-disciplines that require a minimal knowledge of chemistry, and others that require an extensive knowledge.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Jun 29, 2013 #12
    I would like to know why you found chemistry so tough although you are good at Physics and Mathematics. Generally, people who love Physics tend to like Chemistry too.

    Nuclear Engineering is a fascinating area to specialize in. I believe you would need to know only the basics of Chemistry but a lot of physics such as thermodynamics and nuclear physics. I would encourage you to do an online module with the from that covers pretty much what every freshman chemistry student would cover. It is useful also because it takes chemistry from a solid state and materials point of view which is important in the Nuclear industry. see this link: https://www.edx.org/course/mit/3-091x/introduction-solid-state/591. registering and doing the course is free

    I'm not sure about in the US, but in case you are interested to study abroad, the UK has brilliant programmes in Nuclear Engineering especially in the University I study in, Lancaster University, and also Birmingham University. Students here at Lancaster University, tend to go for pre arranged summer placements in Heysham nuclear power station which is 5 miles away.
  14. Jun 29, 2013 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    My school work involved some experimental work and a lot of modeling/simulation. My grad school work was on fast reactor fuel and exotic nuclear power systems, mostly for spacecraft propulsion, or other uses requiring high power density.

    I was hired in my first job because I was one of a few grad students who had experience with a particular fuel performance code. I also got involved in finishing up some projects on which a departing engineer had been working, and one included an assessment of control rod materials and performance.

    A few weeks into the job, I got pulled into a project to review the manufacturing process of Zircaloy nuclear fuel cladding. The following years, I did QA audits, process evaluations and technical assessments of nuclear fuel manufacturing from the raw material through the finished product, all the way to a full fuel assembly. It was fortuitous since it complemented my experience in modeling/simulation of nuclear fuel. In addition to developing models for materials and fuel behavior, other projects include fuel design reviews and analysis. This culminated in a fuel design project, which I can't discuss due to the proprietary nature of the work.

    I encourage engineering students to take as much physics (and even chemistry) and be as diverse as possible in other engineering disciplines. I started university studying physics with coursework in nuclear and astrophysics, but migrated into nuclear engineering.
  15. Jun 29, 2013 #14
    I have always thought of going into nuclear engineering as a fascinating prospect but after speaking with one of my Professors (who had worked in this field) said the job market (compared to other engineering disciplines) was very competitive. If so (and please correct me if I am wrong) this may be something for the OP to consider as well.

    It is interesting that this came up by two different posters however I am in agreement with the OP on this one. My experience with chemistry was not very good as it covered a mountain of material (which I don't have a problem with) but all through memorization. Physics and math were far more intuitive. I don't think science should be learned by rote otherwise what is the point?
  16. Jul 1, 2013 #15
    Thank you all, I am glad I am dealing with professional people.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Thinking to study Nuclear engineering but need some advice