Students Without Borders

Nuclear engineering students take a global perspective

Manuel Sztejnberg came out of high school in Argentina interested in physics and engineering, and he also knew that he wanted a career that would apply these sciences to health. While studying "Engineering in Medical Physics," he did research for his thesis at the Comisión Nacional de Energía Atomica (CNEA) in Buenos Aires. Sztejnberg went on to do a fellowship there, too, because by then, he had "fallen in love" with boron neutron capture therapy, or BNCT. "It's an incredible area because it contains so many disciplines," says Sztejnberg, a PhD student in nuclear engineering.

The scale and scope of the work being done at CNEA impressed Sztejnberg. "When I went to work there, it was like a whole new world," he says. "It was a very big step in my career, because BNCT combines nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, a lot of medical physics, and many other biomedical sciences. In the day-to-day, you begin to learn about a lot of other disciplines."

The more he worked with BNCT in Argentina, the more he realized he needed to learn more about nuclear engineering—radiation detection, the inner workings of a reactor, and dosimetry, for example. A propitious visit to the labs of CNEA by Purdue researcher Tatjana Jevremovic, an associate professor of nuclear engineering, put Sztejnberg in contact with his future. Jevremovic recruited him to Indiana to research BNCT as a treatment for stubborn forms of breast cancer. "It's a very interesting approach," says Sztejnberg, who is now in his third year of doctoral work. "It's a huge challenge, but with a very promising future."

Sztejnberg traveled with Jevremovic back to CNEA in Buenos Aires in December to observe new techniques for detecting and treating cancerous tissues. Small animals were irradiated in a special reactor facility to study a novel therapeutic option. The facility was built expressly with such applications in mind and is one of the first of its kind.

Sztejnberg is excited by the collaborative spirit that exists between CNEA and Purdue. When he completes his PhD, he would like to continue his connection with both places. He believes the dynamic interplay of disciplines at CNEA could be well complemented by the strong nuclear engineering expertise at Purdue. "I have to stay open to both," says Sztejnberg, "It's my ideal."

German engineering

Another internationally minded student, sophomore Marc Paff, is the first representative from the School of Nuclear Engineering to be selected by Purdue's Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education (GEARE) program to study overseas.

It won't be Paff's first time in Germany; his father is a German-born businessman, and Paff's family has moved back and forth between Germany and the U.S. several times. Paff appreciates the example of his father's international perspective in business: "The same thing should apply to engineering," he says. "We work in a global economy and always have to look at the world market. Besides, some of the challenges facing engineers are global crises. It makes sense that everyone should try to work together to solve them."

This summer, Paff will work in a domestic internship in nuclear engineering. During the spring semester of his junior year, he will be interning in Germany and studying at the Universität Karlsruhe. GEARE started in the School of Mechanical Engineering, so Paff will be a pioneer of sorts, working closely with his advisors to design a course of study that optimizes his opportunity to attend classes at one of Europe's premier technical universities.

But Paff is most looking forward to his German internship. "I don't assume that lab work in nuclear engineering is the same as work in the field," he says. He has his eye on a spot with a German firm where scientists have recently discovered six new chemical elements. The global research institute is called Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung, which translates to the Center for Heavy Ion Research.

"The internship will give me a glimpse of life after college," says Paff, who thinks he would like to continue with graduate studies in nuclear engineering when he completes his undergraduate degree. His experience abroad will no doubt help him in that pursuit.

-Gina Vozenilek