‘Cadillac’ of fellowships helps MS&E student drive nuclear research forward

// Materials Science & Engineering, Engineering Physics

Tags: 2019, Faculty, News, students

Photo of Tyler Dabney

Tyler Dabney will work on developing protective coatings for the fuel rods inside nuclear reactors using a powder-based, solid-state additive manufacturing technology called cold spray.

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Tyler Dabney, an incoming materials science and engineering master’s student, has earned a highly competitive and prestigious fellowship from the Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program.

With three years of full funding and support, Dabney will work on developing protective coatings for the fuel rods inside nuclear reactors using a solid-state additive manufacturing technology called cold spray.

Those coatings could help reactors withstand unforeseen events.

“If an accident occurs, the coatings should allow fuel rods to survive longer so engineers can restabilize the reactor core,” says Dabney, whose advisor is Kumar Sridharan, a distinguished research professor in engineering physics and materials science and engineering and an expert in cold-spray coatings.

Cold spray is attractive for nuclear applications because it allows engineers to lay down a protective coating without melting the material. That means very little oxygen gets incorporated into the coatings and there’s no opportunity for defects to arise during solidification, making them long-lived, tough and resistant to oxidation.

Additionally, cold spray is high-throughput allowing coatings to be produced much faster than other techniques.

Dabney began his work as an undergraduate during his junior year, and he stayed on working as a research intern in Sridharan’s lab after commencement in 2017.

His cold spray research has already earned him international attention: In March 2019, he took home first prize in the TMS Additive Manufacturing for Energy Applications poster competition at the additive manufacturing symposium at the TMS annual meeting—the most widely attended conference in the field of metallurgy, minerals and materials.

As a master’s student, he’ll continue that work, and the fellowship will allow him to fully immerse himself in the project.

“It’s a nice burden lifted and I’ll be able to really focus on the research,” he says.

An added perk of the fellowship is the opportunity for Dabney to spend one summer working at a national lab. It’s a chance for him to get additional hands-on experience, and see his designs implemented in fully functioning, large-scale reactors.

“That’s the exciting thing about research and development: You can see things going into real-life use,” says Dabney.

Author: Sam Million-Weaver