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What is Nuclear Engineering all about?

  1. Jul 12, 2011 #1
    I'm studying Mechanical Engineering (thermo-fluid sciences),and these days I'm reading a book about Nuclear Engineering and it seems very interesting except for some parts that are giving me headaches.

    the second chapter is about some modern physics concepts which I am really having some troubles with , like Schrodinger's equation and wavefunction

    So is nuclear engineering all about this?

    my background about quantum mechanics is ZERO and I didn't revise electric&magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation since my first year as my study is all about thermodynamics,heat transfer and fluid mechanics

    I really like nuclear engineering I can take the trouble to learn this stuff if it's important

    So I need to know if it is important and I should fully understand it or I should just read it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2011 #2
    I don't think I saw the wave equation once in my master's program. Mostly, it was thermodynamics, neutron transport, and a lot of other stuff that is generally handled by computer modeling now.
  4. Jul 12, 2011 #3


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    Yes - to really understand the field, you need to know that stuff. For example, one of the important effects with regard to the safety and stability of a reactor is Doppler broadening of absorption resonances.

    As neutrons slow down, when they get to energies in the keV ( kilo or thousand electron-volt ) range the probability of absorption as a function of energy has a bunch of high narrow peaks called resonances. Whether the neutron is parasitically absorbed by the resonance is a function of the neutron energy as seen by the target nucleus which is moving. The higher the temperature of the medium, the higher the velocity of the target nucleus, and the greater the mismatch between the neutron's energy and the energy of the resonance that can be compensated for by the relative motion. The resonance is effectively broadened.

    But why does the absorption probability have these high, narrow peaks? That's where the quantum mechanics comes in. Those resonance are quantum mechanical effects due to virtual states in the unbound continuum ( energies corresponding to free neutrons ).

    So, if you really want to understand a VERY important effect dealing with reactor control and stability; then you need to understand quantum mechanics and its effects.

  5. Jul 13, 2011 #4
    On the other hand, Thermal Hydraulics and Safety Analysis can be view outside that context.

    If you are interested in the thermal fluids side of things, I would highly encourage a career geared towards it.
  6. Jul 14, 2011 #5
    Thanks guys for your replies but I am kind of confused right now

    Morbius :
    daveb :
    so :biggrin: ?

    @Moribus : Can you please mention the topics of Modern Physics that is essential for nuclear engineering?
  7. Jul 14, 2011 #6

    jim hardy

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    Here's my story:
    We got exposed to Schrodinger in third semester physics, sophomore year. Frankly that pushed my intellectual limit.

    I was into electronics and like you became interested in the reactor. Chart of the Nuclides was just a wonderland.

    So i asked my advisor to let me take a course in Reactor Physics as a senior year elective.
    After graduation i went to work in a nuclear plant maintaining the electronic instruments.
    To my surprise i found myself doing a lot of inerpreting between disciplines - pure electrical and pure mechanical engineers had no familiarity with reactors and pure nuclear engineers had no familiarity with electronics or three phase power. I developed a profound respect for Navy Nukes because they were far better rounded than most engineers, at least in the late sixties.

    The industry needs high-powered abstract thinkers for office work.
    The industry needs people with that knack for machinery for field work.
    The industry needs people with in-between skills who can be translators.

    I might have made a mediocre professor. But i was a darn good technician, and helped lots of other folks with the basics..

    a power plant is a maze of mechanical and electrical equipment wrapped around a simple thermal reactor. You can have the best of both worlds. If you're the type who changes his own sparkplugs, consider plant maintenance.

    old jim
  8. Jul 14, 2011 #7
    I strongly believe you'd been a better professor than anyone else I have ever had in Nuclear.
  9. Jul 15, 2011 #8

    jim hardy

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    well, thank you Mr C-I.... what a kind thing to say...

    The measure of a man's bigness is how he treats little people. You measure up big, my friend !

    old jim
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2011
  10. Jul 16, 2011 #9
    I wish I had a professor like you
  11. Jul 16, 2011 #10


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    Quantum mechanics and 'modern' physics are required where one develops the microscopic cross-sections for various radionuclides from which one constructs macroscopic cross-sections used in transport theory and core simulators. Reactor physics is a mature field, but there is always room for improvement.

    Nuclear energy is a multi-discipline field. Besides nuclear engineering, there is a need for mechanical engineers, electrical/electronics engineers, civil/structural engineers, materials engineers, . . . . And they (should) work as a team.

    Engineering is applied physics afterall, and the more physics and mathematics one knows the better - in my opinion and experience. There are jobs in nuclear engineering that do not require intimate knowledge of nuclear physics, but without that knowledge, one will be limited to jobs that do not require such knowledge. Any engineer should seek to be well-rounded (diviersified) as much as possible.

    A major developing area is multi-scale computational physics. Computational systems are being developed to do simulations of nuclear fuel, fuel assemblies, reactor (core and cooling system), and plant. Because of the nature of the discharged fuel, post-irradiation behavior is also the subject of advanced modeling and simuation. Multi-scale simulation involves modeling the physics at the atomic level in order to develop better meso-scale and engineering scale models, which are then used to simulate and predict the behavior of nuclear systems under normal (primarily steady-state) conditions and off-normal events. The challenge then is to consider off-normal events, e.g., transient boundary conditions, including natural events such as earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes/tornadoes, as well as human initiated events.
  12. Jul 16, 2011 #11


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    Amen to all that Astronuc has said. I couldn't say it better.

    I'm always troubled when someone asks "Do I really need to know...."

    It's like one is looking for the minimum amount of knowledge and schooling that one can
    "get away with".

    It's not about looking for what you can "get away with" - the more you know, the better - in ALL fields.

  13. Jul 17, 2011 #12
    Thanks Astronuc , that's what I needed to know :)

    Actually I'm not, you see I am a mechanical engineer and I am studying nuclear engineering how is that not knowing more?
    I was just asking for the guidelines as it's the first time for me to explore such world
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