Led by Chintalapalle Ramana, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso are investigating novel structural materials to improve nuclear reactors.
“Materials research at an extreme environment is really challenging, and there are not many options available,” said Ramana, who is working to improve material resistance to temperature, pressure and radioactivity so that they do not degrade as quickly upon exposure.
With the help of Gustavo Martinez, a graduate researcher in mechanical engineering, Ramana has begun investigating tungsten-yttrium based materials for application in the design and development of next-generation nuclear reactors. Current structural materials used are tungsten-based, and alloyed with other metals like titanium or lanthanum for further improvement.
“The inclusion of yttrium to tungsten will dramatically improve the materials’ chemical, physical and mechanical properties, and reduce the degree of thermal effects and nuclear irradiation exposure," Ramana said.
This spring the professor received funding from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) through the University of California, Berkley, to carry out a three-year study on the novel materials in collaboration with the University of California, Davis, which is a member of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium (NSSC).
"At UC Davis, we are very excited to collaborate with UTEP to investigate nuclear structural materials. Such partnerships are the key to broadening the scope of research in nuclear sciences,” said Mani Tripathi, Ph.D., professor of physics at UC Davis.
Karl Van Bibber, Ph.D., professor and chair of nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley, added, “Deterring nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is one of the nation's highest priorities, and the NSSC was designed to reach deeply into the academic community to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers who will make their careers in this field. We are pleased to have UTEP as a grantee of the consortium, and congratulate Dr. Ramana and his team on their winning proposal. We look forward to new and exciting results from their group, and opening the pipeline of talent from UTEP to the DOE national laboratory system.”
Over the course of the three years, the plan is to fabricate the materials and perform structural analysis at UTEP. They will then be taken to UC Davis’ McClellan Nuclear Research Center and UC Berkeley for radiation testing and further evaluation.
“By doing this research I want to provide excellent opportunities to our students and contribute to UTEP’s quest to become the first national research university with a 21st century student demographic, and show that we have great potential,” Ramana said. “This is going to help us expand the options of mechanical engineering, and I am sure this will help lead us to one day offering nuclear engineering courses.”