The most renewable, reliable

Friday, December 8, 2023

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

During my years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, I was fortunate to work with some of the world’s most brilliant particle physicists who contemplated atomic concepts all day. Their passion and the potential impact of their work was so consequential that I wanted to understand their world better. One of the books I read, The Atom in the History of Human Thought, by a Polish-French theoretical quantum chemist, Bernard Pullman, offered a simple but fascinating view of the evolution of the understanding of the atom over a period of 25 centuries. It went something like this: imagine that you, as a knowledgeable observer born in the 19th century, are sitting in the middle of an upper row of an auditorium filled with atomic scientists of the past and the future. Each row in front of you is occupied by scientists of previous centuries with the earliest in the front row, and the rows behind you are occupied by scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Intending to simulate the time flow of knowledge from the past to the present and future, but not the other way around, people in each row could converse with one another and could hear everyone in front of them but not anyone behind them. You, the informed observer, could hear every argument in the room and desperately wished that the people in the front rows could have been aware of all the discoveries that were made after them. You hear all the philosophical and religious arguments, all the later proven unfounded fears of the past and all the misconceptions due to lack of a better understanding of the role of the atom in our lives.

Some such misconceptions continue to hinder the development of the most reliable of all renewable sources of energy. Nuclear energy, generated through fusion or fission, can “power our way of life while barely leaving a trace” and yet is feared to the point where even those who wish for more of it don’t want it generated “in their backyard.”

Remarkable new advances, however, particularly in the fusion domain, create a sun-like reaction here on Earth that promises energy abundance using a nearly limitless fuel supply. The recent National Ignition Facility’s announcement of the first-ever fusion ignition took the scientific world by storm. The news excited and energized debate in every physics laboratory in the world by introducing a new chapter in the fusion energy domain. Similarly, ongoing developments in the realm of magnetically confined fusion also hold the promise of significant advancements.

The Joint European Torus (JET) in the UK and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France are examples of the global effort in simulating the power of the sun on Earth.

On another exciting front, microreactors have come a long way and offer safe, flexible and reliable energy generation. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the premier nuclear energy research facility for peaceful applications, has performed research and development for design and development of safe microreactors for commercial use.

Here at Missouri S&T, we are home to our state’s first research nuclear reactor, one of only 25 operating university reactors. Our undergraduate and graduate Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Scienceprograms offer a comprehensive, hands-on education with the mission of preparing engineers and scientists for promising careers in the nuclear power industry and beyond. Our new Energy Technology Incubator (ETI) program is established to accelerate energy innovation concepts from our laboratories to the marketplace, not only in nuclear, but also in fields ranging from solar, to geothermal, to hydrogen generation, storage and usage, to carbon management, to mining and fossil fuels, to electric.

Clearly, to address the growing energy needs of our planet, and to address any environmental concerns, we must accept and invest in alternative sources of renewable, reliable, sustainable and, of course, affordable energy. And, there is no sense in even running a race to identify our most reliable, renewable source readily available for harvesting, if we are unable to part with our misconceptions and fears.



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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
Chancellor | 573-341-4116

206 Parker Hall, 300 West 13th Street, Rolla, MO 65409-0910