NEW FACULTY: Todd Allen
t’s a great time to be a nuclear engineer,” says Todd
Allen, because the Department of Energy’s Generation IV initiative,
which seeks to develop advanced reactors within the next 20 or 30 years,
is heating up, while operators of light-water reactors are studying
ways to extend their existing plants’ lives. “It’ll
be easy to get the students involved in interesting research projects
and meeting people who will be their future employers,” he says.
Most recently the section manager for reactor
materials at Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho Falls, Idaho,
Allen joined the department this fall as an assistant professor.
As an undergraduate, the Michigan native attended
Northwestern University on an ROTC scholarship. “I got interested
in submarines and because all the submarines are nuclear, then I sort
of got interested in nuclear,” he says. He received his BS in
nuclear engineering in 1984 and joined the U.S. Navy, where he received
additional nuclear training and then spent three-and-a-half years aboard
the USS Florida, a submarine out of Bangor, Washington.
Back on land, he taught undergraduate physics
at the U.S. Naval Academy for two years before pursuing his PhD in nuclear
engineering at the University of Michigan. When he graduated, he joined
Argonne as a member of its reactor materials research team. “My
research background is in nuclear energy—specifically, materials
for nuclear energy systems,” he says. “And a lot of it has
to do with studying how radiation damages materials.”
Currently, he is leading a project with colleagues
at the University of Michigan and Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Richland,
Washington, to develop ways to make materials more radiation-resistant.
The group is investigating techniques to change a material’s composition
or the way it’s processed to prevent specific failures. “The
idea is if it’s a replaceable component that right now has a life
of a year, you can fix it so it has a lifetime of four years, which
means you don’t have to buy as many components and you don’t
have to shut down the reactor to take something in and out as often,”
In addition to his work with reactor materials,
Allen spent two years on the leadership team that worked on the Generation
IV roadmap and was part of a group that supported a 10-country forum
on the project. “It really upped my level of understanding of
what the open issues are and put the materials research into much better
context,” he says of the international experience.
On campus, he plans to split his focus between
current and advanced initiatives. “I am trying to keep my hand
in issues related to operational reactors, and also keep a hand in the
things that are very advanced and trying to apply the lessons learned
from practical things that guys have to deal with in a real plant as
you’re trying to design new plants,” he says.
Allen, who will teach a senior reactor design
course in spring and next fall will offer a reactor materials radiation
damage course, hopes to expand his research interests to include societal
and policy issues as well.
In their free time, he and his wife, Joanna—also
an engineer—like to bike, travel, and spend time with their dogs,
George and Hoover.