The School of Nuclear Engineering's History

The history of the School originates with Alexander Sesonske, who arrived at Purdue University from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in September 1954 as an associate professor of chemical engineering. Over the period 1954 to 1957 he brought nuclear engineering from an introductory course for chemical engineers to an interdisciplinary graduate program open to students from various engineering disciplines. In 1955, the first edition of Nuclear Reactor Engineering by Samuel Glasstone and Alexander Sesonske was published. Subsequent editions in two volumes have long been the principal introductory textbooks in reactor engineering.

Several faculty members with nuclear expertise and interest formed the department in 1960, offering initially MS and PhD degrees. Phil Powers was attracted as the first Head, and undergraduate courses in interdisciplinary engineering, started by Alexander Sesonske, were expanded. Funding was obtained to build a 2 Kw swimming pool reactor (named PUR-1) for teaching and research. When Phil Powers took the position of President of the newly formed Argonne Universities Association in 1966, Alexander Sesonske became Acting Head, and Paul Lykoudis was appointed Head in 1973. A full undergraduate program was instituted at that time and new faculty members were added. The department became the School of Nuclear Engineering in 1974 in recognition of its conferring BS and MS degrees in Nuclear Engineering. Professor Frank Clikeman became acting head from 1986-1990 with the retirement of Professor Lykoudis, and subsequent Heads have been Professors Victor Ransom (1990-1998), Arden Bement, Jr. (1998-2001), Lefteri Tsoukalas (2002-2006), Vincent F. Bralts, Interim Head (2006-June 2009) and the current head is Ahmed Hassanein, Paul L. Wattelet Professor (July-2009 - present).

Since its founding, the School of Nuclear Engineering has had a proud record of accomplishments:

  • Professor Paul Lykoudis conducted the first experiment to demonstrate that liquid metal convection is damped by the presence of a magnetic field.
  • Professor T. Theofanous developed the first predictive model for the pressurized thermal shock problem in PWRs
  • Professor Karl Ott, in collaboration with Professor Frank Clikeman, constructed a Fast Blanket Breeder Facility at Purdue in 1976 to study neutron reaction rates in fast reactor blankets. Together they resolved the major discrepancies that existed between experiment and theory at that time and demonstrated that Monte Carlo methods were capable of accurately modeling the performance of fast reactor blankets.
  • Professor Alvin Solomon established the Energy Materials Laboratory in 1974 and helped determine the elevated temperature mechanical behavior of ceramic nuclear fuels. In recent years he has helped determine the long-term chemical stability of spent fuel containment systems.
  • Since joining Purdue in 1983, Professor Chan Choi has made important contributions to fusion space propulsion, multiphoton ionization, the interaction of intense radiation with matter, the modeling of ICF interface distortions during implosion, and the stability of field-reversed configurations for tokamaks. He developed the AFLINT concept for an advanced fuel inertial confinement fusion (ICF) target, which is widely cited internationally.
  • During the 1980s Professor Thomas Downar developed fuel cycle optimization and sensitivity analysis methods that formed the basis for LWR loading pattern optimization codes used in industry. In recent years he has used parallel algorithms and linear solvers to develop coupled, three-dimensional neutron/temperature/fluid field equations. The spatial kinetics methods developed by Professor Downar are implemented in all three major reactor analysis codes: RELAP, RETRAN and TRAC. The NRC uses his PARC code as a reference code for reactor licensing and re-licensing.
  • Since 1988 Professor Mamoru Ishii has made many important contributions to multi-sensor instrumentation methods and the mathematical modeling of two-phase flow instabilities and interfacial heat transfer. He developed the first complete mechanistic model for core melt dispersion and transport in PWRs. He has contributed new understanding to severe accident scaling, flow induced dryout, interfacial stability, flashing phenomena and subcooled boiling.
  • As a principal author of the RELAP5 code, Professor Victor Ransom has applied RELAP5 to advanced light water reactor systems. He also made major contributions to a new reactor simulation code, ATHENA, and a graphical user interface employing AI methods for thermal hydraulic system simulation.
  • Professors Lefteri Tsoukalas and Mamoru Ishii developed the first two-phase flow diagnostic systems with sophisticated instrumentation and AI technology.
  • Professors Mamoru Ishii and Shripad Revankar designed and built the PUMA quarter-scale, integral test facility to study the safety of the simplified boiling water reactor (SBWR) under completely passive cooling.
  • Professor Martin de Bertodano developed an improved model for predicting droplet entrainment and deposition at high pressures in multi-phase heat transfer.
  • More recently, the faculty of the School of Nuclear Engineering has broadened its research activities to include nuclear medicine, anticipatory control of complex systems, and proliferation-free fuel cycles.