College of Engineering receives funds for new department minor

By By Jed Layton

By Jed Layton

A $1.5 million gift from the EnergySolutions Foundations to the U College of Engineering will provide a new Presidential Endowed Chair and a new minor in nuclear engineering.

Richard Brown, dean of the College of Engineering, said he is excited about the endowment because of the potential it has to help U students.

Brown said he has worked in recent years to develop the nuclear engineering program because of the prominence of nuclear technology and radiation in the world today. Radiation is in the home, the office, retail stores, hospitals, automobiles and nearly everywhere else, Brown said.

Because radiation and nuclear power are at the center of many public policy debates, Brown said he’s become concerned by the lack of scientific literacy shown by the general public.

“We need an informed citizenry,” he said. “There is a lot of interest in all things nuclear, especially in Utah. But there is little understanding of radiation.”

However, Brown is confident the new Presidential Endowed Chair in nuclear engineering and the new minor will help increase knowledge and employment opportunities for U students.

Student interest in nuclear engineering last year led to a petition requesting the minor, which will begin this academic year, and will be open to students in engineering and science.

Jennifer Davis, a U graduate in civil and environmental engineering, helped put together the student petition. Davis took all of the classes that will be required for the minor, but because she graduated last year she missed receiving it. Regardless, her education in nuclear technology helped in finding employment, she said.

“Every engineering discipline is related in some way to the nuclear field,” she said. “A minor in nuclear engineering will open doors for graduating U students.”

There is a huge market for graduates with knowledge in nuclear engineering, Brown said. He noted a recent report from the American Society for Engineering Education which showed that only 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees are in engineering and science. That, coupled with an opposition to nuclear power and lack of research funding from the U.S. government, has produced a critical shortage of nuclear industry professionals, Brown said.

It is expected that by the year 2010 the demand for nuclear engineers in the United States will exceed supply by more than 50 percent. An aging workforce and an increase in nuclear engineers employed in the health care and business field adds to the shortage of nuclear engineers, Brown said.

Peter Jenkins, a doctorate student in nuclear engineering, is an example of the nuclear engineers working in areas beside energy. He works as a medical physicist for University Health Care, calculating radiation doses for patients.

“Nuclear science covers a wide area from safety, to research, to power, to the space program or the medical field,” he said.

These industries employ thousands of nuclear engineers and are continuing to grow. Brown said the new minor will provide some of the employees needed to fill the ranks. He says students will be attracted to nuclear engineering because it has some of the highest salaries for new college graduates, and with this background they would be able to help solve the energy and waste crises and contribute to a better diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.

The new minor and Presidential Chair also coincide with a new class being offered by the College of Engineering. Brown hopes this new course-ECE 1070, Radiation in the Real World-will help provide informative background on nuclear technology and radiation at a basic level for any interested students. The course will meet the applied science general education requirement, Brown said.

“This course will give students the fundamental knowledge they need to be able to participate in meaningful discussions about nuclear-related issues,” he said.

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