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VMI Cadets Visit MNE

Group Shot

Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute visited our department to meet with out faculty and tour our laboratories. Our department has forged a partnership with VMI where a sekect few cadets spend the summer here at VCU researching a topic of their choice in conjunction with our faculty  and graduate students. A couple of years ago, Brandon Dodd, former VMI cadet and current VCU graduate student, was one of the few that was selected to study here over the summer. Dodd came to speak with the students about his experiences and how it helped him make the decision to go to grad school.  Brandon Campbell, who was with us this past summer, also came with his fellow cadets to give them insight into his time here.

International Workshop on Accelerator Driven Systems and Thorium Utilization hosted by VCU

RICHMOND, Va. (October 22, 2014) – Physicists, accelerator experts and nuclear engineers from around the world gathered in Richmond, Virginia from October 14-17, 2014 to exchange ideas and promote discussion at the Third International Workshop on Accelerator-Driven Sub-Critical Systems and Thorium Utilization.

Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering (MNE) hosted the three-day program with Sama Bilbao y Leon, Ph.D., serving as program committee chair. The conference sought to identify areas of global common interest and explore the possibilities for future collaboration amongst international leading institutions working in the area of accelerator driven subcritical systems (ADS).

Bilbao y Leon relished the opportunity to talk and share ideas with an international group of colleagues. “This year the workshop featured many different points of view about the feasibility of various ADS concepts and the role that thorium plays in the future. The exchange of information we had during the workshop will hopefully start the next big collaboration in these areas to bring us closer to real solutions and stronger connections,” said Bilbao y Leon.

With representatives from countries including China, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, France, India, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the workshop focused specifically on innovative concepts and applications for ADS, including the production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications, the use of used nuclear fuel for the generation of energy or the production of liquid biofuels for conventional transportation systems.

The workshop also evaluated the future use of thorium in ADS or other systems. Much more commonly found in nature than uranium, thorium is a radioactive element whose potential future utilization is being evaluated primarily in China and India. “This makes me want to collaborate with China and India,” said Andrew Hutton, Ph.D., and Associate Director of the Accelerator Division of Jefferson Lab. “Our colleagues in India and China are working on accelerator driven systems that use thorium instead of uranium. We could stand to learn from India.”

Jean-Pierre Charles Revol of the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN, a world leader in high-energy particle physics and accelerator technology, expressed that ADS has the potential to be much safer than existing nuclear reactors and will enable scientists to discover solutions to the nuclear waste problem. “Any and all R&D is good. If someone has a good idea you should give them a chance to explore it,” said Revol.

Bilbao y Leon endorsed Revol’s views and added that the possibilities for ADS are vast, including the fabrication of medical radioisotopes and the burning of used nuclear fuel. “Used nuclear fuel is exactly that—it’s a fuel,” said Bilbao y Leon. “It’s useful. I don’t want to throw away something so useful. I want to use it to produce energy in an ADS”

The workshop’s focus on sustainable nuclear resources is demonstrative of how cross continental relationships can spark change in the nuclear fuel cycle. Next year’s 4th International Workshop is set to be held in India.

article via School of Engineering

 Nuclear Science Merit Badge Workshop Coming Soon to VCU


VCU-ANS President, Enerel Munkhzul displaying the VCU-ANS table.

VCU-ANS President, Enerel Munkhzul displaying the VCU-ANS table.

This past Saturday, the VCU chapter of ANS travelled to Clover Hill High School to participate in the Girl Scout Volunteer Kick-Off event. There, they promoted the newly developed Nuclear Science Merit Badge Workshop starting in November of this year. The upcoming workshop is geared toward middle and high school students interested in nuclear science and engineering.

VCU-ANS President, Enerel Munkhzul, and VCU-ANS Treasurer, Grace Cummings, represented the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Department at this event. Munkhzul reports a high turnout of scouts. She also reports a flurry of activity and interest at the VCU-ANS table, so much so that all the fliers disappeared within the first hour of the event.

In the upcoming workshop, forty girls will spend a Saturday in VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering learning the basics of nuclear engineering with half the day in lectures and half the day performing experiments.

VCU-ANS Treasurer, Grace Cummings, chatting with parents about the future Girl Scout Nuclear Science Merit Badge Workshop.

VCU-ANS Treasurer, Grace Cummings, chatting with parents about the future Girl Scout Nuclear Science Merit Badge Workshop coming in the fall.


The MNE Department already offers an annual Boy Scout Nuclear Merit Badge Workshop that has been successful for several years. November 8th marks the first Girl Scout Merit Badge Workshop, and the excitement exhibited by the Girl Scouts and the VCU-ANS members demonstrates a well-rounded partnership within all the areas of scouting.

Munkhzul emphasizes the importance of young females wanting to become engineers, “…for the purpose of diversifying the engineering field”, and she’s glad that can serve as a role model for those girls who may wish to pursue a STEM related career.

Relationship between VMI and VCU Still Going Strong

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering has forged a solid relationship with the Virginia Military Institute, a relationship resulting in many VMI undergraduates spending their summer performing research at VCU. The student’s experience offers them a glimpse into the life of a VCU graduate student, a pathway some choose to venture upon completion of their undergraduate degree.

DSCN0753For eight weeks, the VMI students research and perform experiments on a directed topic in correlation to their area of study and personal interest. Rising senior Brandon Campbell, a mechanical engineering major, paired with Dr. Arunkumar Subramanian and his graduate student Naveen Kumar Palapati. Campbell’s assigned project centered on discovering a standard number for the elasticity of manganese potassium nanowires. Much of his research was founded upon Palapati’s research involving the longevity of lithium nano batteries.. For his first three weeks at VCU, Campbell read everything he could about nanowires before beginning work in the lab. During his fourth week, he began work with the wires using the Atomic Force Microscope. He states that once he began working in the lab, he realized the difficulty in finding a simple figure.

“I have more of an appreciation for the work that goes into finding those numbers.” Campbell says.

Campbell’s colleague, rising junior Scott Cox, coupled with two VCU mentors, Mr. James Miller and Dr. Sama Bilbao y Leon, in the Nuclear Simulation Lab. The Nuclear Simulation Lab began as a DSCN0747Senior Design project and developed into a powerful teaching tool for VCU students. Each year, the visiting VMI students collaborate with VCU students to improve its operating capabilities. Cox’s assignment: work on the reactivity of  the simulator. Alongside VCU student, Jonathan Dip, Cox upgraded the control rods and the boron levels. In addition, he also revamped the controls by using LabVIEW, as a front panel, and Retran. Cox, like Campbell, extensively read literature on nuclear reactors and their functions before he started working with the simulator. His research not only helped him with this project, but he says it will also help him with his future studies at VMI.

“You’ve got to focus at some point in your life and this has helped me focus.” Cox told us.

When asked what he would say to other VMI students interested in participating in this summer program, Campbell says: “You’re going to enjoy it here.”

Dr. Bilbao in the Times

Dr. Sama Bilbao y Leon was, again, published in the Richmond Times Dispatch. In her op-ed, she discusses the benefits of nuclear and clean renewable energy and how state government may have the right idea about energy but not the proper execution. Follow the link to read more of her insight on the state of energy in the U.S. Congrats Dr. Bilbao.


VCU to Benefit from Academic Partnership with Siemens

At an event this morning, Siemens announced the seven Virginia universities where they are donating $2 billion worth of software and creating academic partnerships. Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering is among the recipients.

The announcement was live streamed this morning at 11am via:

The event featured Governor Terry McAuliffe, Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, (VA – 3rd Congressional District), Eric Spiegel, CEO, Siemens Corporation USA — among several others.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published a correlating story in their June 4, 2014, edition; to view the article and software donation list visit: The article quotes both L. Franklin Bost, executive associate dean for VCU School of Engineering and Charles Chartin, assistant professor. 

Congratulations to Ammon Williams!

Ammon Williams, a MNE Ph.D. candidate who works with Dr. Supathorn Phongikaroon, was recently selected as a winner of the Paper Competition for Students Who Attend Universities with less than $600 Million in R&D Expenditures for 2014 Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Award.  This competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, and the Office of Fuel Cycle Technologies.

His paper is titled, “Separation of CsCl from a ternary CsCl-LiCl-KCl salt via a melt crystallization technique for pyroprocessing waste minimization,” Chemical Engineering Science, 89, 258-263 (2013).”

He will receive a $1500 award along with possible travel reimbursement of up to $1400 to the 2014 ANS winter meeting.

Congratulations, Ammon!

JLab Open House

On Saturday, May 17th, student from the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering participated in the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) Open House (  Once every two years JLab, located in Newport News, invites the general public to explore their world-class research facility and learn about superconducting materials, supercomputers, particle accelerators, lasers, nuclear physics research and much more.  Other Virginia universities and organizations are also invited to provide demonstrations.  VCU Engineering was represented by graduate students James Carr, Enerel Munkhzul, Sanjay Sah and John Swanson, as well as several undergraduate students.  Matt Giffen, Paul Harper, Dimitris Killinger, presented VCU’s Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) Fusion reactor and Eric Davies, Tim Downing and Andrew Miller showed VCU’s Nuclear Simulator.  The students involved said that they were not only fascinated by JLab particle accelerators but also by the large number of people interested in science and engineering.  Check out some photos from the JLab Open House in our “Media Gallery“.


Nuclear Students Achieve Fusion

A team of four Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering seniors has completed work on an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) fusion device, which it designed and built this spring.

The goal of the project was to develop a functioning IEC fusion reactor by May 2014 that would serve as both a learning and research tool for future students and faculty at VCU.

The team, which received top honors at the 2014 VCU Senior Design Expo, included students Nibras Abdalameer, Matthew Giffen, Paul Harper and Caleb Massey, all from the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. Advisers were James Miller, instructor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering; Vaibhav Sinha, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering; and Sama Bilbao y Leon, Ph.D., associate professor and director of Nuclear Engineering Programs in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. The Expo was held during VCU Research Weeks in April.

“This development and demonstration of a nuclear fusion device is particularly impressive. [I]t was accomplished by a team of undergraduate students on a shoestring budget,” said Gary Tepper, Ph.D., chair in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

An IEC fusion reactor uses a high voltage cathode within a vacuum chamber to ionize deuterium gas within the chamber. The resulting potential difference causes the positively charged deuterium nuclei (deuterons) to accelerate to high enough speeds to overcome Coulomb repulsion and to collide producing nuclear fusion. This deuterium-deuterium (D-D) fusion yields a measurable fast neutron flux.

VCU Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering faculty and students plan to use the neutron flux generated by the fusor for various nuclear science and materials characterization research projects.

“We are very excited to be a part of the development of this important new technology,” said Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of VCU School of Engineering, referring to the February 2014 success of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), to achieve a positive energy gain fusion.

This project was supported by Dominion Nuclear Analysis and Fuel. (via VCU News)

Congratulations to the seniors and a special thanks to Dominion.

Dr. Gad-el-Hak in Mechanical Engineering magazine

Dr. Mohamed Gad-el-Hak recently wrote an article titled “The Three Faces of Engineering” in Mechanical Engineering magazine. Gad-el-Hak explains to his readers what it really takes to thrive as an engineer. Read the complete article by clicking here.


Congratulations Dr. Longest

Congratulations are in order for  Professor Longest who was recently published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences (JPharmSci®). His paper titled “Development and Comparison of New High Efficiency Dry Powder Inhalers for Carrier-Free Formulations” was selected by the editors of the journal to be featured on the website (( for the next three months under “Editor’s Picks”.