The Future of Nuclear Engineering

By Sarah Bass 

College graduates, as with most industries, are the future of nuclear engineering. How university programs are structured, the professors’ involvement in the field, and the opportunities available at the undergraduate and graduate-level are fundamental to the continued growth of nuclear engineering.

Recently, Assistant Professor Dr. Kathryn Huff in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering (NPRE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was interviewed on the YesCollege Podcast. Dr. Huff explained what nuclear engineering is, debunked several myths, talked about what typical nuclear engineering degree programs are like, and what can be expected for the future of nuclear engineering.

When asked what kind of qualities students should have to be successful in nuclear engineering, Dr. Huff responded with, “The most important thing that I see our most successful students having is …that they really want to save the world.”

While she admits that answer may be a bit corny, it is absolutely true. Nuclear power is one of the cleanest and safest forms of power we have, and especially with carbon-emissions back on the rise, we need the future of nuclear engineering to be in the hands of students who have a passion for making a positive impact on the world.

Students enter their academic careers with this fervor, and it’s essential for the university and its faculty to support their goals by providing a multitude of research opportunities for them. And the earlier, the better.

In this interview, Dr. Huff explained that 50% of the undergraduate students in the NPRE Department are participating in research, with the goal being to have 100% of the students involved in some way. Many of the students are able to interact with and conduct experiments in basic plasma physics with the stellarator, HIDRA, on campus, which she describes as a magnetic fusion device “with a little twist.”

Not all nuclear engineering programs have the ability to immerse their students in this way. However, having 100% of students participating in research should be the gold standard for every university offering this degree.

Nuclear engineering departments can offer more passive research opportunities to students. Dr. Huff provides one example, which involved students strapping radiation detectors to their iPhones for a month as they walked around the campus each day to create a radiation map. Being able to participate in research makes the nuclear engineering principles presented in textbooks tangible and real.

What I did learn from Dr. Kathryn Huff’s interview, is that students who are passionate about saving the environment, can do so through this exciting field of nuclear engineering. It is then the job of the educators, both inside the classroom and out, to foster that passion so they may have a better chance at making nuclear power increasingly more efficient, safer, and accepted.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Kathryn Huff on the YesCollege Podcast. 


Sarah BassSarah Bass is the Senior Editor at, a podcast and a website dedicated to helping others achieve their academic goals, including those interested in studying nuclear engineering. Sarah holds a degree in education and has over 10 years of experience working in academia and publishing. Follow YesCollege on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “The Future of Nuclear Engineering

  1. Ruth Weiner

    With all due respect to those quoted in this post, the most important thing for nuclear engineering students is to develop and internalize knowledge and understanding of basic physics, chemistry, and engineering. There is no creative work in nuclear science and engineering without this basic knowledge. (Yesterday I found myself consulting my Ph.D dissertation, which was published in 1962.) The fundamental knowledge is added to, but doesn’t go away. Workshops, speeches, and “activism” are empty and futile gestures without a real understanding of the underlying science. Fears and misconceptions cannot be successfully corrected or debunked unless you really know what you are talking about. Isaac Newton wrote:”If I have seen further than Galileo, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” As nuclear engineering students, you are standong on the shoulders of Linus Pauling, Glen Seaborg, Niels Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, Maria Mayer, Marie Curie,and the many other nuclear scientists.

  2. robots2005 AI32080

    I believe the surveillance of nuclear materials in the crust and in the ocean will be key during the second quarter of this century. I’ve divided AI into three types: the first one hacks, the second one engineers better AI, and the 3rd one makes sci-fi weaponry.
    The second one will attempt to secure nuclear materials. For this reason, I believe it will be necessary to capture one or more comets and place them at Lagrange Points. Holes are made in the comets and silicon or better photomultiplier tubes are placed in the comets. Lots of them. The rim of Earth’s crust and oceans are imaged for Uranium and other materials. Once detected, local mobile imaging can be deployed on the ground or at sea. This Cherenkov radiation detector in concert with mobile detection should be about 1000x better than is a solely Earth surface system as mantle neutrinos obscure the locations of crust and ocean uranium. I don’t see any other good system of preventing ocean filtering of uranium. I don’t know how big the captured comet will need to be or just how many silicon PM tubes will be needed. As much as I don’t want robotics in space, the PMTs or a superior future imaging technology will need to be made on the Moon.

  3. inconnexion

    Alan You wrote: “Today, nuclear weapons reportedly range from an umbrella loaded with polonium to Fukushima and Chernobyl to constant venting (slow, subtle kill) from nuclear power plants– or do you deny those as well?! You must have missed this in my reply: “Reactors are real. Bombs and warheads are not. I do not deny nuclear reactors. They are controlled reactions and cannot produce nuclear explosions. Their designs buckling will not ever allow that. The uncontrolled excursions cause steam explosions only. Containment is broken because of violent steam explosions in the rector vessels. Radioactive nuclides are released. That is VERY dangerous Fukushima is an example. I do not put nuclear reactors in ANY sort of weapons categories. I operated three types of nuclear reactors for the US Navy in submarines in the 60s and 70s. They were: S1C, S5W and S5G. S-submarine. C-Combustion Engineering. W-Westinghouse. G-General Electric. The numbers were the classification by generation” series. (The #1- S1C was a prototype. Trainer.) Lying jews and MSM tout nuke weapons. I do not. I have been writing about the reality of geoengineering since I discovered the patents for Hughes Aircraft in the early 1990s.

  4. Emma Redfoot

    Thank you Dr. Huff and YesCollege for describing the passion and some of the reasoning behind students pursuing nuclear engineering. Thanks Dr. Huff for working towards helping students achieve their goals of making the world a better place through producing quality nuclear research!

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