students at work at the nuclear reactor

Research Overview

The Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering actively conducts research to generate new knowledge that will strengthen and support undergraduate and graduate education at Penn State, in the United States, and across the world.

Our research is enormously collaborative, and our faculty participate in interdisciplinary research with national and international universities as well as many of the academic colleges, research centers, and consortia within Penn State.

The nuclear engineering department has numerous state-of-the-art research facilities where students can experience hands-on experimental techniques as well as modern computational simulations. The Radiation Science and Engineering Center houses the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor and is available for student and faculty research and laboratory work. This reactor is one of the few university research reactors in the country.

Faculty Seeking Graduate Students

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Jean Paul Allain

Research areas: sustainable development, radiation damage, computational materials science, nuclear fusion, industrial plasmas, plasma medicine

Bio: Jean Paul Allain is the head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. He holds the Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair in Plasma Medicine in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and he is a faculty co-hire of the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences. Allain was professor and associate head of graduate programs in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) from 2013 until 2019 and was assistant and associate professor in nuclear engineering at Purdue University from 2007 to 2013. His group’s research areas include advanced functional bio interfaces, advanced nuclear fusion interfaces, multi-scale computational irradiation surface science, nanostructured functional materials, adaptive and self-healing interfaces, sustainable nanomanufacturing, and in-situ, in-operando material surface diagnostics.

Research statement: Allain’s Radiation Surface Science and Engineering Laboratory (RSSEL) group designs and manufactures self-organized nanostructures with directed irradiation synthesis and directed plasma nanosynthesis enabling multi-functional and multi-scale properties at surface and interfaces of dissimilar material systems (e.g., polymer and metals, ceramics, and biomaterials) inspired by nature. Allain’s group is divided into three research themes: complex nanomaterials, functional biointerfaces, and adaptive fusion interfaces supported by in-situ and in-vivo surface characterization and computational irradiation surface science tools.

Graduate students needed: Allain invites students in areas of plasma-material interactions and advanced computational materials science to apply. Students will conduct advanced surface analysis (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, ion scattering spectroscopy, and Raman spectroscopy) and microscopy techniques (in-situ TEM, atom probe tomography) to develop ultrafine-dispersion-strengthened tungsten alloys for future fusion reactors. Projects also include computational materials science of reactive fusion interfaces and novel 3D and advanced manufacturing of high-temperature porous metals combined with liquid metal and liquid salt systems for advanced reactor design.

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Fan-Bill Cheung

Research areas: experimental thermal hydraulics, design basis accident experimentation and modeling, severe accident experimentation and modeling, nuclear power safety studies

Bio: Fan-Bill Cheung is the George L. Guillet Professor at Penn State. He received his doctorate mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1974 and was a research staff/group leader at Argonne National Laboratory from 1974 to 1985. He joined the faculty at Penn State in 1985. He was elected fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1998, fellow of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) in 2002, and NURETH fellow in 2013. Cheung was the Chair of the ASME K-13 Committee on Heat Transfer in Multiphase Systems in 1999-2002 and the Chair of the ANS Thermal Hydraulics Division in 1999-2000. In recognition of his significant technical impact on applying the fundamental principles of two-phase heat transfer to design-basis-accident thermal-hydraulics and severe-accident thermal hydraulics, Cheung was selected by the international thermal-hydraulics community as the recipient of the prestigious ANS Technical Achievement Award (TAA) in 2006.

Research statement: Cheung’s major research interests fall into the field of two-phase flow and heat transfer with specific applications to nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics and safety. He has made a significant and long-lasting technical impact through his research efforts utilizing advanced diagnostic techniques, sophisticated numerical methods, and physics-based theoretical analyses to seek in-depth understanding of two-phase flow and heat transfer relevant to nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics and safety. He has promoted the technical programs in nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics and safety through his archival publications and his strong leadership in various international conferences. His research program at Penn State involves collaboration with researchers, practitioners, engineers, and sponsors from several organizations in twelve different Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries on reflood transients in rod bundles during large break loss-of-coolant accidents in light water reactors.

Graduate students needed: Cheung seeks doctoral students interested in rod bundle heat transfer experiments and TRACE simulations of the reflood transients in a rod bundle under constant and oscillatory reflood conditions.

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Miaomiao (Mia) Jin

Research areas: computational materials, materials behavior in extreme environments, radiation-tolerant materials design, materials informatics

Bio: Miaomiao (Mia) Jin is an assistant professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. Jin earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019 and bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering at University of Science and Technology of China in 2013. Prior to joining Penn State, she completed a postdoctoral appointment at Idaho National Laboratory in 2020.

Research statement: Jin’s research focuses on computation materials relevant to nuclear applications, including atomistic simulations of materials behavior under extreme environments, multiscale modeling to infer property evolution/degradation, and data-driven prediction of radiation-induced material response.

Graduate students needed: Jin is currently seeking one to two graduate students interested in applying scale-dependent computational methods (physics-based and data-driven) to solve problems in nuclear materials. Potential projects involve investigations of molten salt corrosion, radiation damage, moderator hydrides, and fuel performance.

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Saya Lee

Research areas: experimental thermal hydraulics, advanced reactor design

Bio: Saya Lee is an assistant professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. Lee earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University and his M.S. in mechanical engineering and B.S. in mechanical and electrical engineering with a minor in computer science from Handong University in South Korea. Lee has expertise in experimental nuclear thermal hydraulics for both light water reactors and advanced reactors and is developing advanced measurement techniques.

Research statement: Lee has extensive experience in complex nuclear thermal-hydraulic experiments including flow visualization, single- and multi-phase heat transfer, turbulent jet mixing in various light water and advanced reactor applications. In the past two years, Lee focused on high-temperature experiments including molten-salt test loop design and construction and heat-pipe cooled microreactor experimental facility design. Lee has capabilities to develop diagnostics and operate various measurement techniques such as PIV and laser induced fluorescence, pressure sensitive paint (PSP), hot-wire anemometer (HWA), FO-DTS, and confocal laser displacement sensor (CLDS). Additionally, he has his own in-house techniques for PIV, LIF, PSP, and HWA that provide flexibility for various targets at extreme conditions. Lee’s thermal-hydraulics laboratory (THLAB) is currently establishing its research infrastructure which is to include a high-speed infrared (IR) camera, a FO-DTS system, a CLDS, four high-speed cameras, multiple lasers (355nm, 405nm, and 532nm), and a high-end data acquisition system to perform challenging thermal-hydraulic experiments for advanced nuclear reactors.

Graduate students needed: Lee is currently seeking one graduate student for advanced reactors. The research topics involve multiphase heat transfer in sodium heat pipe and thermal-fluid analysis in molten salt under natural circulation.

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Martin de Jesus Nieto-Perez

Research areas: experimental and computational plasma-surface interactions, engineering design of hybrid fission-fusion systems, advanced nuclear fuel cycles

Bio: Martin Nieto-Perez is an associate lecturing professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University. Nieto-Perez has a Ph.D. (2004) and a M.S. (2001) degrees, both in Nuclear Engineering, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.S. in chemical engineering from Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (1997) in Mexico City, Mexico. He has an expertise spanning 15 years in experimental and computational aspects of plasma-material interactions, and recently, he has been involved in projects dealing with small tokamak design and the engineering aspects of the insertion of fusion neutron sources in the nuclear fission fuel cycle.

Research statement: I am a very versatile and inquisitive scientists, and that has made my research interests very broad, from use of atmospheric plasmas in the food industry to fusion neutron sources for breeding nuclear fissile material and destroying minor actinides. I also work both on experimental and computational projects. There are two main research projects that currently take most of my time: I am currently working closely with Professor Jean Paul Allain in the design, construction and eventual operation of the IGNIS 2 facility, a state-of-the art plasma exposure and surface analysis for studying fundamental aspects of plasma-material interactions that can be used for studying a fair number of phenomena in different fields, such as biomedical applications or coatings for aerospace components. My other current active project is the design of tokamak-based fast neutron sources for the processing of nuclear material, in particular fuel assemblies for light water reactors. Me and my colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin are currently optimizing and evaluating the efficiency of these sources to transform fertile material into fissile material, either for the manufacture of fresh fuel or for boosting fissile material content in partially spent fuel; in addition, these sources have the potential of destroying minor actinides once the fuel assemblies have reached their end of life, lowering the final disposition safety burden by destroying the minor actinides responsible for the long-term radiotoxicity of spent fuel residue.

Graduate students needed: Nieto-Perez is currently seeking two graduate students for two projects. One involves studies of lithium wetting in candidate PFC material for tokamaks and evaluation of other capillary properties of molten lithium, the other is the simulation of nuclear fuel irradiation by a volumetric neutron source using the MCNP and SCALE codes.

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Justin Schwartz
(cc: Bre Robinson,

Research areas: Applied superconductivity, optical fiber sensors, magnetic materials, electromagnetic field materials processing, critical technologies for nuclear fusion.

Bio: Justin Schwartz is interim executive vice president and provost of Penn State and a professor of engineering science and materials science and engineering. Before joining Penn State in 2017, Schwartz was Kobe Steel Distinguished Professor and head of the department of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University. Schwartz’s research interests include superconducting, magnetic and multiferroic materials and the systems they enable.

Research statement: Schwartz’s interdisciplinary research focuses on superconducting, magnetic and multiferroic materials and systems, thin films and devices, electromagnetic field materials processing and the advanced optical fiber sensors. His primary research interest is in the underlying science that drives performance and system integration of emerging materials, including the role of defects, mechanical and functional failure, manufacturing, processing, packaging and integration. The research integrates the physics and chemistry of novel materials with mechanical, electrical, magnetic, thermal, and systems issues, bridging the underlying nanoscopic phenomena to macroscopic behaviors.

Graduate students needed: Schwartz welcomes graduate students interested in applying optical fiber sensing techniques to the detection of faults and the characterization of performance limits of superconducting radio frequency cavities and high-temperature superconductor coils subject to AC conditions and vibrations.

Other Faculty

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Marek Flaska

Research areas: nuclear science, radiation detection, nuclear non-proliferation safety and forensics, source and detector technologies

Bio: Marek Flaska is an assistant professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. Flaska received his bachelor's and master's degree in nuclear engineering from Slovak Technical University. He earned his doctorate in applied physics from the Delft University of Technology, then completed a postdoctoral appointment at Oak Ridge National Lab. He was an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on designing radiation detection systems for nuclear non-proliferation, safeguards, forensics, and fundamental physics applications.

Research statement: Flaska has been conducting research to design radiation detection systems for nuclear nonproliferation, safeguards, forensics, and fundamental physics applications. His current research activities include direct involvement in one of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Department of Energy (DOE) Consortium, in the Penn State-led Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Department of Defense (DOD) Alliance, his own DTRA DOD nuclear forensics project, as well as several additional projects (one of them with Idaho National Laboratory through the Department of Energy).

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Amanda Johnsen

Research areas: isotope production, nuclear non-proliferation safety and forensics, radiochemistry

Bio: Amanda Johnsen holds the Bryant Early Career Assistant Professorship in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. Johnsen was previously a research associate at the Penn State Radiation Science and Engineering Center, where she researched isotope production and purification methods; applied neutron activation analysis to environmental, archaeological, and engineering projects; and taught two radiochemistry courses. She was a postdoctoral associate at the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where she researched novel used nuclear fuel dissolution processes, medical isotope purification, environmental cleanup, and spectroscopic detection of used fuel solutions. As a graduate student, she performed her thesis research on neptunium precipitation chemistry at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of California Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Research statement: The Johnsen group works at the intersection of radiochemistry and neutron irradiation techniques to engage with challenges in the areas of nuclear power generation, nuclear security and safeguards, medical treatment and diagnostic tools, and environmental stewardship. Current projects include measurements of fundamental properties of short-lived fission products (a collaboration with Marek Flaska), modeling of molten salt reactors for nuclear safeguards (a collaboration with William Walters and Azaree Lintereur), and improved production and separation methods for medically relevant radioisotopes.

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Elia Merzari

Research areas: computational thermal hydraulics, advanced reactor design

Bio: Elia Merzari received his doctorate from Tokyo Institute of Technology with a thesis on the use of advanced computational fluid dynamics techniques to the simulation of flows in rod bundles. After graduation, he remained in the same institute as a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science fellow. In 2009, he joined Argonne National Laboratory, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as regular staff in 2010. At Argonne, Dr. Merzari served in several roles in the Nuclear Energy Advanced modeling and simulation (NEAMS) program, for which he is currently the thermal-fluids lead. In 2019, he joined the faculty at Penn State as an associate professor. Dr. Merzari’s research relies on predictive large-scale simulations of turbulence to improve our physical understanding of complex flows and to ultimately design safer and more efficient nuclear reactors. He has received several awards related to these efforts in the area of high-performance computing including ANS Landis Young Member Engineering Achievement Award, ASME's George Westinghouse Silver Medal, and an R&D100 award.

Research Statement: Merzari’s research relies on predictive large-scale simulations of turbulence to improve our physical understanding of complex flows and ultimately design safer and more efficient nuclear energy systems. His group strives to develop numerical methods and tools that bridge the gap between supercomputing-based simulation and engineering practice. The students in the group are working on several applications, including small modular reactors, liquid metal reactors, molten salt reactors, heat pipe micro-reactors, and high-temperature gas reactors.

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Arthur Motta

Research areas: nuclear power, radiation damage, environmental degradation

Bio: Arthur Motta is professor and graduate program chair of nuclear engineering in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering and in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. Dr. Motta holds degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining the Penn State faculty in 1992, he worked as a research associate for the CEA at the Centre for Nuclear Studies in Grenoble, France, for two years and as a postdoctoral fellow for AECL at Chalk River Laboratories in Canada.

Research statement: Motta works in the area of radiation damage and environmental degradation to materials with specific emphasis in zirconium alloys, with current projects in the areas of mechanical testing, corrosion, and radiation damage. He has special interests in using advanced characterization techniques such as X-ray scattering from synchrotron radiation sources, transmission electron microscopy, and in situ irradiation to discern fundamental mechanisms of corrosion and radiation damage.

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Kenan Ünlü

Research areas: nuclear science, nuclear security, neutron beam techniques, source and detector technologies, LPE Academic Working Group, LPE Research Working Group

Bio: Kenan Ünlü graduated from Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey with an undergraduate and a M.Sc. degree in engineering physics. Ünlü received another M.Sc. and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan. He was a faculty member and the manager of neutron beam projects at the University of Texas at Austin from 1990 to 1998. He joined Cornell University in 1998 as the director of the Ward Center for Nuclear Sciences. Since 2002, he has been a faculty member at Penn State. He is the Director of the Radiation Science and Engineering Center, professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering and affiliate professor at the Penn State School of International Affairs. Ünlü has over thirty years of research reactor administration experiences for research, education, and service activities in leadership roles. His experiences include development and applications of nuclear methods for advancement of nuclear science and engineering, utilizations of research reactors for scientific research, and nuclear security education and research.

Research statement: Ünlü led the development of various nuclear methods and applications at the research reactor for advancement of science and technology over the years. His research and development projects include: Neutron activation analysis development and its applications, soft error rate measurements and neutron intercepting semiconductor chip development, cold neutron source, neutron guide development and applications to neutron focusing and prompt gamma activation analysis, conventional and TOF neutron depth profiling development and its applications to the semiconductor industry, neutron imaging and neutron radiography development and applications to fuel cell development, and research reactor core neutronics and thermal hydraulics development for new PSBR core design. He pioneered the development of conventional and TOF neutron depth profiling and cold neutron source. His recent research projects include a new third generation mesitylene base cold neutron source development, neutron guide design for a small angle neutron scattering facility, new neutron radiography and tomography facility design and implementation, and nuclear material accountancy for safeguards and nonproliferation.

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Xing Wang

Research areas: nuclear power, radiation damage, computational materials science

Bio: Xing Wang is an assistant professor in the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering. Wang received a B.S. in engineering physics from Tsinghua University in 2011, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in nuclear engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Before joining Penn State, Wang was a postdoctoral research associate in Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2017 to 2019.

Research statement: Wang’s research is focused on understanding the radiation-induced structure and composition evolutions in materials by combining transmission electron microscopy, atom probe tomography, and multiscale materials simulation. The goal is to develop radiation-resistant materials for applications in advanced nuclear reactors.



The Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the top ranked nuclear engineering programs in the United States. The department distinguishes itself with a strong focus on experimental research. The actively growing department leads four educational programs for students pursuing a bachelor of science, a master of science, a master of engineering, or a doctoral degree. The Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) facilities, including the Breazeale Reactor, are available to nuclear engineering faculty and students at Penn State for research and instruction. RSEC houses the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, the country’s first and longest operating licensed nuclear research reactor. Having access to an operating research reactor is a key strength for the department and enables Penn State to harness research and educational opportunities that are unique in the United States. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Nuclear Engineering

206 Hallowell Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-863-6222