Greetings from Madison! As some of you may have already heard, I took over as chair of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Engineering Physics in summer 2019. I joined the EP faculty in 2001 with a research portfolio in modeling and simulation for nuclear energy systems—both fission and fusion—and have brought much of that to the classroom in our nuclear engineering programs. As part of the Energy Systems and Policy cluster, I also connect to the broader energy community across the UW-Madison campus.
I have big shoes to fill in the chair’s office. I’m fortunate to have known all of the previous chairs and appreciate the important legacy they have left behind. I may be the first chair who was not hired by Professor Emeritus Max Carbon, but I have been lucky to know him for more than 25 years. It is still easy to see the impact he had in creating a department that focuses on a rare combination of excellence and collegiality. These principles have guided us in hiring eight new faculty in the last four years, including the newest addition, Yongfeng Zhang, joining us in fall 2019 from Idaho National Laboratory. Other recent additions to the faculty include Assistant Professor Benedikt Geiger and Professor Curt Bronkhorst.
The department is abuzz with the energy of new young faculty setting up their labs, recruiting outstanding students, and winning their first grants as they establish themselves as leaders in their fields.
We are all thankful, as well, for the leadership of Professor Douglass Henderson over the last five years. He jumped in quickly when Professor Jake Blanchard moved on to the dean’s office and provided excellent leadership through an important period of setting strategic direction for the future of the department while overseeing turnover of about a third of our faculty. His work as chair has set me up for success and we look forward to having him and Jake back from their administrative roles.
In other transitions, Professor Ray Fonck has retired and become an emeritus faculty member. He has been a leader in plasma physics and fusion research on campus and beyond, including a stint as the director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he has secured funding and support for Urania, an upgrade to the Pegasus experiment that Ray began about 20 years ago. While we will miss Ray’s wisdom and experience among our faculty, we expect to still see him around the department as Urania’s expansion is completed and new rounds of data collection begin.
A vibrant ecosystem of new companies in nuclear science and technology has created opportunities for increased industrial engagement. Near Madison, Phoenix LLC is building a new center for neutron imaging, and SHINE is building a new facility for producing medical isotopes. Both companies—which are led by EP alumni—are interested in leveraging the capabilities of our research reactor as we focus on expanding its role in research and irradiation services.
Farther afield, new nuclear reactor designers like Kairos Power, among others, are funding research and hiring our graduates to continue the work they begin here. And some alumni are making in impact in nuclear science in other ways. For example, Jayeesh Bakshi (NEEP MS ’14) drew on his UW-Madison nuclear engineering education to invent a new type of transparent radiation shielding to make working in nuclear science and technology safer and more efficient.
If you’d like to stop by and chat, my door is always open. Or you can look for me most Fridays at 7 a.m. at Mickies Dairy Bar with a group of students, continuing a 27-year tradition.
Engineering Physics Department Chair and Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering