KNOXVILLE—An international research team led by an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville has received a grant to help with work involving a key component of nuclear reactors.
The U.S. Department of Energy grant is worth $800,000 over three years, and it has been awarded to UT Assistant Professor Haixuan Xu. It’s part of the Nuclear Energy University Programs funding and will be used to work on a pair of particular steel alloys, a press release said.
“Getting support on this will allow us to investigate and understand the defect evolution in these materials,” said Xu, of the UT Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “What we hope to gain is fundamental insight into the effects of radiation on the alloys so that we can better predict and detect how they will break down over time and adjust the materials accordingly.”
The alloys in question would be used in sodium-cooled reactors. Xu’s research is important because little is known about how the materials stand up to high levels of radiation over time.
The first objective will be to use ion radiation to see how the materials sustain damage, while the second will look at the mechanical properties of the alloys post-irradiation to see how the damage might have been avoided.
That insight could then be applied to other alloys, spreading the benefits of the research beyond the primary goal.
While the hoped-for outcome would be a notable achievement for the College of Engineering, merely being selected for the funding was a rare achievement, according to department head Kurt Sickafus.
“Professor Xu has only been with our department a little more than a year,” said Sickafus. “It is very unusual to win such a large award at this stage in one’s academic career. “I am extremely proud of him.”
Other institutions with researchers collaborating on the project include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Lille in France.
The award is the latest in a string of scholarships, grants, and awards the Department of Materials Science and Department of Nuclear Engineering have received from the NEUP, the press release said.