UC Berkeley hosts first nuclear science summer school conference

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UC Berkeley is hosting the first Nuclear Science and Security Consortium Summer School, a conference drawing in top scientists from seven different universities and four national laboratories, this week.

The laboratories participating including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratories.

Faculty members will lead workshops, discussions, research presentations and facility tours for students across the fields of radiation chemistry, public policy and nuclear physics and engineering.

The conference is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s $25 million program to train and inspire the next generation of nuclear science and security experts.

The program was launched in 2011 in response to President Barack Obama’s new priority of reducing nuclear threats, according to Karl Van Bibber, chair of the campus department of nuclear engineering and the executive director of the consortium.

“The Department of Energy said the national labs will need a pipeline of several hundred new Ph.D.s across the spectrum of nuclear engineering,” Van Bibber said.

The program targets undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows and offers opportunities in advanced practical and experimental research as well as fostering the future workforce in top government laboratories.

Nicole Larson, a graduate student in nuclear chemistry at Michigan State University, said the program and conference give students an opportunity to network and explore different options.

“You get a different perspective on things other than the basic science,” Larson said. “And maybe get a sense of where some of the things you’ve been working on can be applied.”

Larson is currently working with her group on a recently acquired nuclear detector but hopes to “go on to bigger and better things.”

Research is being sponsored with the intent of engaging students in the nonproliferation mission and eventually transferring them into national labs, according to Van Bibber.

The popularity of nuclear engineering programs has doubled in the past 10 years, he said.

“Young people today see the need for clean, carbon-free energy,” Van Bibber said. “They look at nuclear energy from a much more holistic point of view.”

The conference also aims to integrate public policy and ethics with technical training, said program director Jasmina Vujic, a campus professor of nuclear engineering.

“People engaged in policy need to be technical,” Vujic said. “It’s extremely important.”

Ryan Bergmann, a fifth-year doctoral student in nuclear engineering, said one of the main benefits of the conference was experiencing the political side of his field.

“Coming from a technical background, I get to see more of the policy side, and politics — the societal viewpoints of what I’m involved in,” Bergmann said. “And I realize I may not know as much as I should.”

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected]