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June 9, 2009
By Mike Wolterbeek
University of Nevada, Reno mathematics researcher and faculty member Pavel Solin can help make a nuclear reactor run more efficiently, and he will be using scientific computing to prove it as part of a national effort to develop the next generation of nuclear technologies.
Solin will be receiving a $587,000 grant from the Department of Energy as part of their investment in cutting-edge nuclear energy research and development under the new Nuclear Energy University Program.
“I will be using new, highly sophisticated computational methods to improve the quality of computer simulations of the processes in nuclear reactors, which are described via very complicated equations,” Solin said. “The processes inside the reactor involve, among others, neutron flux, thermal hydraulics, structural materials and oxygen release. The processes require advanced coupled flow, thermal and structural analysis as the reactor swells with changing temperatures and pressures.”
Solin’s work can solve many physical processes simultaneously while current computational methods only analyze one physical process at a time.
“Our methods will be used to support the design of a new generation of nuclear reactors; and we will run computer simulations of the old reactors to prolong their useful life as well.”
Solin will be working with engineers who are designing the systems for the new reactors.
“Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is the central place for these projects. We are building partnerships with them, and we already have a group leader, Dr. Glen Hansen from INL, as an adjunct professor in our department,” he said.
Collaborating on his project, “High-Fidelity Space-Time Adaptive Multiphysics Simulations in Nuclear Engineering,” is Jean Ragusa, a faculty member of the nuclear engineering department at Texas A&M University.
“Partnerships and collaborations like these are important,” he said. “We will be using post-docs and grad students on this project, both here and in Texas.”
Dr. Solin and the entire math department is also actively expanding on-campus collaborations with the engineering, chemistry and physics departments.
“Across the country, researchers in these departments now typically use basic computational methods,” he said. “With our collaborations we can help them to make their computations orders of magnitude faster and much more accurate. My department is very supportive; it’s a good place for mathematics research.
“My group involves students with various backgrounds, ranging from theoretical physicists to mathematicians and computer scientists. This is necessary for successful completion of challenging interdisciplinary projects, and working together also is a very good experience for the students themselves. We are always looking for outstanding students to join our group.”
Solin, a native of the Czech Republic, came to the University of Nevada, Reno in January following eight years of post-doctoral work, research and teaching in Texas. He said the University of Nevada, Reno has excellent computers for mathematics research, with more than 400 processor cores at the Campus Research Grid to run his complex computations.
The centrally managed supercomputer grid, which is open to researchers in all departments, has been in operation for several years with a current combined 518 gigabytes of RAM, 118 compute nodes, and 24 terabytes of storage. Researchers such as Solin can run complicated simulations involving massive amounts of data at a much lower cost than setting up their own computer cluster, allowing them to compete on a national level for research grants and programs.
Nationwide, 71 university research projects have been selected as part of the Department of Energy’s investment in cutting-edge nuclear energy research and development. By helping to develop the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies, the Nuclear Energy University Program will play a key role in addressing the global climate crisis and moving the nation toward greater use of nuclear energy, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.
“As a zero-carbon energy source, nuclear power must be part of our energy mix as we work toward energy independence and meeting the challenge of global warming,” said Secretary Chu. “The next generation of nuclear power plants – with the highest standards of safety, efficiency and environmental protection – will require the latest advancements in nuclear science and technology. These research and development university awards will ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in the nuclear field for years to come.”