Increasing global energy needs and rising concerns over climate change, along with new technological advances, are placing renewed emphasis on the role of nuclear science and technology in society. Nuclear power supplies 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States, and many new nuclear power plants are being developed around the world. Nuclear science and technology has many additional beneficial applications, and the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT offers what is probably the widest spectrum of research activities of any nuclear department in the country. Our researchers develop nuclear fission and fusion reactors for diverse uses, including electricity generation, waste management and space propulsion, and they contribute to homeland security by exploring ways to monitor nuclear materials and detect nuclear threats. They apply nuclear technologies to the physical and life sciences in areas ranging from neutron interferometry to radiation modeling and MR imaging, and work in direct support of the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor, a project aimed at demonstrating the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power.
Research in MIT’s nuclear science and engineering department, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, is conducted under three broad categories:
Fission engineering and nuclear energyActivities in this area are directed at the conceptualization, development, and deployment of next-generation nuclear power plants. We also support the operation of existing nuclear power plants, including the more than 100 operating in the U.S., by conducting research on equipment aging, safety improvement, human reliability, probabilistic safety assessments, and enhanced economic performance through higher-power density cores. The 6 megawatt MIT reactor is used in education and research.
Fusion and plasma physicsThis research area comprises analytical, numerical, and experimental investigation in areas including superconductivity and superconducting magnets, plasma turbulence, advanced materials, system design and optimization, and high-power millimeter wave generation. MIT’s tokamak fusion facility is used by researchers world wide to study magnetic confinement of plasmas.
Non-energy applications of nuclear science and technologyThis area includes active research programs in macroscopic radiation biology, NMR microscopy, isotope imaging, molecular contrast agents for MR imaging, the selective delivery of radiation to cells, and the unique properties of nano-scale structures. We’re also leading the way toward developing the understanding, methodologies, and engineering required for controlled spin manipulations, an essential capability in all solid-state approaches to quantum information processing that may lead to significant increases in computational power, secure communications bandwidth, and the understanding of multi-body physics. An important new focus of research is the development of tools and methods, including new compact accelerator and detector technologies, for nuclear materials modeling and control.