Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The WPI Nuclear Reactor Facility first began operations in 1959 primarily as a tool for nuclear engineering education. Since then, it has been used to train two generations of nuclear engineers and scientists for the nuclear industry. Today, WPI continues to be committed to continuing its mission of training future nuclear engineers and scientists. The facility provides a hands on approach to teaching by encouraging student utilization of each facet of the reactor, its control systems, experimental facilities, and laboratory equipment. This type of complete access to a working nuclear reactor is unique for an undergraduate nuclear engineering program.
The open pool reactor is licensed for a maximum thermal output of 10 kW, which allows a maximum thermal neutron flux of about 1x10E11 nv, and is designed such that the core is readily accessible. Facility equipment includes a beam port for neutron beam experiments including neutron radiography, a graphite thermal column for neutron diffusion studies, two germanium semiconductor detector systems for spectrometry studies including neutron activation analysis, and an array of sodium iodide scintillation and Geiger detector systems for various laboratory exercises. Both the control console and the peripheral laboratory equipment used for student projects and laboratory exercises are located in the reactor room.
Nuclear Engineering at WPI is an undergraduate program under the Mechanical Engineering department. Seven nuclear engineering courses and project opportunities are offered for students of all disciplines. The available courses include basic nuclear concepts, radiological safety, reactor theory, and nuclear waste disposal. Laboratory experience accompanies most of these courses in addition to a separate nuclear engineering laboratory course. Participation in elements of the program is strongly interdisciplinary. The nuclear engineering courses compliment several other programs at WPI, including; physics, chemistry, biotechnology, electrical engineering, and civil engineering. WPI also places a strong emphasis on project work, and the reactor facility has been a focal point for much project work in the nuclear area. Faculties from other departments make use of the facility, as well as several from other colleges in the area, who routinely utilize the facility under the Reactor Sharing Program.
The Reactor Sharing Program has evolved such that it provides intensive, extended use to a few users, rather than quick and limited use to many users. A number of institutions have made use of the WPI Reactor under the Reactor Sharing Program. And, as has been the case for many years, tours, demonstrations, and presentations have been made to several area pre-college students. The facility staff recognizes the need to interest school children, and their teachers, in the nuclear sciences. A concerted effort is made to reach out to area high schools and elementary grade students. In the past, we have participated in presentations and demonstrations on nuclear radiation properties and biological effects to students at several high schools in the Massachusetts area.