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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne hosts summer school for nuclear energy scientists

An all-virtual summer school helps educate and connect current and future scientists who design, license and operate nuclear facilities.

Students were teachers and teachers were students at this year’s Modeling, Experimentation and Validation (MeV) Summer School. The school, hosted virtually by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory from July 19-30, provides updates on current nuclear energy systems and technologies as well as allows industry newcomers to grapple with tomorrow’s issues.

Organized by Argonne and DOE’s Idaho and Oak Ridge national laboratories, the annual event educates and deepens the knowledge of scientists and engineers who work together to design, license and operate nuclear reactors — ensuring that the United States can meet its future nuclear energy needs.

A good thing about the MeV school is that lessons learned are passed on year after year.” — Florent Heidet, dean of the 2021 MeV Summer School

The path forward for nuclear energy is through proper integration of various technologies, but also through understanding the motivations of various stakeholders and through realizing the value each of us has to offer, especially the students and those who will spend the next few decades contributing to our field,” said Florent Heidet, group manager of Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems at Argonne and dean of this year’s MeV Summer School.

Dr. Kathryn Huff, principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the U.S. DOEs Office of Nuclear Energy, speaks to students about the office’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Students attended and participated in open discussions, team activities and virtual tours led by experts, including some who had previously attended MeV Summer Schools themselves as students or mentors. The 2021 MeV school concluded with groups solving various design problems, such as ways to mitigate salt-related freezing problems and the practical challenges of designing at-home micro-reactors that could enable off-the-grid” living.

Our project was definitely not perfect, but it was a fun opportunity to explore new things without worrying about work performance, expectations or deliverables,” said Dhongik Yoon, a nuclear engineer from Argonne who attended the summer school as a student. Interacting with other students with a variety of backgrounds — those I wouldn’t normally get to interact with — was a valuable experience, and it reminded me that we can always learn from different people because each person brings a different perspective.”

Yoon and his team focused on the material testing, modeling and regulatory perspectives associated with alternate metallic fuel design. In comparison, the team contemplating at-home micro-reactor design looked at economics and safety issues in addition to choosing the right shielding materials. For example, what happens when a homeowner decides to try to fix an at-home reactor on his or her own?

Exposure to diverse perspectives and the wide range of concerns in the nuclear energy industry is built into the MeV Summer School curriculum and experience.

Nuclear energy has become a very highly integrated field, with many interdependencies,” explained Heidet. Events like the MeV school are opportunities to highlight the diversity of views, opinions and interests of various stakeholders. This year, we made a conscious effort to have a comprehensive set of lecturers, such as having industry and some utilities present.”

The school also overcame a major hurdle of virtual learning: providing social and professional networking opportunities to students.

A good thing about the MeV school is that lessons learned are passed on year after year,” said Heidet, who credits Idaho National Laboratory with sharing valuable feedback from its 2020 all-virtual summer school effort. We went out of our way to incorporate [virtual networking and social events], such as holding a traditional poster session in a virtual environment, structuring tasks from students that encouraged communication among themselves, and holding events such as Meet Argonne employees’ night.”

These opportunities, as well as question-and-answer sessions with lecturers, staff scientists and other students, helped attendees expand their thoughts, ideas and interactions.

An important value I will bring back to my organization is surely working with a team in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation,” said student Nicole Virgili, a nuclear engineer and associate project officer from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who collaborated with Yoon on their final project. I will surely stay in touch with people I met during the school.”

Patrick Blaise, who participated in the program in 2018 as a mentor from the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, said the MeV Summer School was a valuable learning experience for him even though this year he served primarily as a lecturer. Because all sessions were recorded, he was able to attend” sessions after the fact.

In experimental reactor physics, the facilities [are] becoming sparse,” Blaise said. As a listener,’ I really enjoyed other lectures because it kept me aware of what is happening in the United States.” He particularly appreciated updates on multi physics methodologies, innovations on startup projects, and strategies from the industry.

This was the 13th MeV Summer School led by Argonne, Idaho and Oak Ridge national laboratories, with support from the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, nuclear energy industry partners and Idaho State University. Next year’s MeV Summer School will be hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.