News Release 

UTSA program prepares students for future careers in nuclear security

UTSA project funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration prepares students to become professionals with strong backgrounds in nuclear security

University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is educating and preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers to provide innovative solutions to the grand challenges in nuclear security.

A cross-disciplinary team of researchers led by faculty members in the College of Sciences and the College of Engineering have been awarded nearly $3 million in grant funding by the National Nuclear Security Administration for their project CONNECT (The CONsortium on Nuclear sECurity Technologies).

UTSA team members included Kelly Nash (PI), associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy; Miltos Alamaniotis, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Amanda Fernandez, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science; Harry Millwater, the Samuel G. Dawson Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering; and Elizabeth Sooby Wood, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

"CONNECT is an excellent example of cross-disciplinary collaboration, drawing on the strengths of talented faculty in both the College of Sciences and the College of Engineering," explained David Silva, dean of UTSA's Colleges of Sciences. "We are excited to support this important venture that will prepare students to make positive impacts in nuclear security."

"This type of collaboration between sciences and engineering researchers is critical to making the next big discoveries in energy and security. UTSA researchers continue to provide these unique opportunities to our students in the lab but also in the classroom, so that they are prepared to engage across all disciplines in their careers," added JoAnn Browning, dean of UTSA's College of Engineering.

The UTSA team is partnered with leaders in both student training and nuclear forensics science, including investigators at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (Frederic Poineau), St. Mary's University (Juan Ocampo), Argonne National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Nash and Wood explained that the consortium will conduct basic and applied research that utilizes experimental and computational technologies to create a pipeline of diverse students with strong backgrounds in nuclear science, fissionable fuels fabrication and processing, nuclear materials characterization, nuclear forensic signatures, nuclear technology, and data and visual analytics.

Students studying physics, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, among other disciplines, will work together on interdisciplinary research and network with experts in the nuclear security field.

"The overall goal of the project is to connect students interested in STEM with national Department of Energy labs and top experts so they are prepared to enter the workforce and be leaders in careers pertaining to national nuclear security," explained Nash, the principal investigator of the grant.

"CONNECT gives students the opportunity to explore topics, such as nuclear materials and nuclear security and they may never have considered these fields before. The project has both an educational and scientific impact as it introduces students to the various career opportunities available," replied Wood.

The CONNECT consortium is part of the NNSA Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program. which is designed to build a pipeline between the Department of Energy's sites and labs and minority-serving institutions in STEM disciplines and bring a heightened awareness of NNSA plants and laboratories to institutions with a common interest in STEM research fields. Currently MSIPP supports 10 consortium-based teams consisting of participants from select institutions.

"UTSA provides rich undergraduate experiential learning opportunities like this and it's especially important for undergraduates because it provides a pathway for them to acquire real-world research and career experiences," said Nash.

During the three-year grant, 13 Ph.D. students and nearly 30 undergraduate students will be supported through the project.

Nash said that UTSA and its CONNECT partners will host undergraduates during the summer to introduce the students to research and career opportunities and to also provide mentorship.

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