Department of Energy awards to support students researching nuclear energy


By Gabrielle Stewart

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three students in the Penn State College of Engineering were selected to receive awards through the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy Integrated University Program. The awards, open to students across the country pursuing degrees in nuclear energy and engineering, are intended to support the next generation of nuclear energy leaders as they develop solutions to meet the nation’s clean energy goals.

David Orense, an architectural engineering doctoral candidate, received a three-year graduate fellowship. The award will provide $52,000 per year, as well as an additional $5,000 to fund a 10-week internship opportunity at a DOE-approved facility. Orense researches resilient concrete materials for disposing of high-level nuclear waste that results from nuclear reactor operation. Advised by Juan Pablo Gevaudan, affiliate professor of architectural engineering and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, Orense aims to develop disposal packages that are resistant to corrosion and can last thousands of years.

“Receiving my first-year fellowship has been a revitalizing experience,” said Orense, who earned his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida in 2020. “I’ve taken this as a sign of good things to come.”

David Reger, a nuclear engineering doctoral student, also received a graduate fellowship. Under the mentorship of his adviser, Elia Merzari, associate professor of nuclear engineering, Reger investigates solutions for next-generation nuclear reactors. He creates computational simulations of coolant flow through the pebble-bed reactor, a proposed design that relies on graphite pebbles for nuclear fuel rather than fuel rods used in conventional reactors.

“It’s very exciting and humbling to receive an award that allows me to help enable the implementation of these new designs,” Reger said. “Since nuclear energy has virtually no carbon emissions, there’s huge potential for designs like these to serve as partial solutions to climate change.”

Coleman Smith, a third-year student in nuclear engineering and a Schreyer Scholar, received a $7,500 scholarship. Also advised by Merzari, Smith is primarily interested in the sustainable and medical applications of nuclear engineering, he said.

“I feel truly lucky to get a quality education in nuclear engineering right now, with emerging nuclear technologies and the great effort the department has put in to bringing itself to the top,” Smith said. “I was very happy to receive this award, as it will provide me with the financial security to complete my education.”


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