A New Home for the Nuclear Engineering Department

By Robert Corrigan

At the start of the spring semester, nuclear engineering students returned to a very different looking department from the previous term. Over winter break, the nuclear engineering (NE) department made its long-awaited move out of Pasqua Engineering into the former Earth & Planetary Sciences building, now temporarily dubbed the Engineering and Sciences Annex (ESA). I sat down with Dr. Wes Hines, Department Chair, to find out more about the big move and the highly anticipated, soon-to-be-constructed new home for UT’s nuclear engineering department.

“I think if you want to be a top 25, or a number one nuclear engineering department, that you want to have the best faculty, staff, students, and facilities, and our facilities are kind of embarrassing. We have students saying, ‘aww, let’s try and host the next ANS student conference next year,’ and I think, ahhh… let’s not. A. It’s a lot of work, and B. Our facilities are horrible, and I don’t want people to know how bad our facilities are! (Laughs) I mean, they’re O.K., but it’s not something you want to go brag about.”

Hosting the ANS student conference has been a hot topic for students involved in UTK’s ANS student chapter for a long time. According to the ANS student sections committee website, many rival institutions have hosted the conference twice or even three times (see Texas A&M), while UTK has never hosted the event. It is possible that the combination of a new building for NE and new facilities across campus–such as the new student union–will change this in the near future.

EDIT: (3/11/2018) The UTK NE department hosted the Eastern Regional ANS Student Conference in 1980. The meeting was held in Gatlinburg, TN. The student sections committee no longer holds regional conferences, and UTNE has never hosted the national student conference.

But the new building isn’t just for bragging rights. The department will be getting several state of the art facilities, for both research and instruction, including an accelerator-driven fast flux facility which Dr. Hines was particularly enthusiastic about. “If we have something like this fast flux facility,” he said, “there’s no place else in the United States that has that type of facility, so it’d give us some unique research opportunities that no one else will have.” Altogether, the new building will house 23 lab spaces, as well as offices for faculty, staff, and graduate students, not to mention a multitude of group collaboration spaces and conference rooms, weighing in at a whopping three times the overall space that was available to the department in Pasqua.

Further amenities include: shielded laboratories, an approach to criticality facility, a new and improved version of an existing natural circulation experiment, and a high bay to accommodate large projects. There are also plans to construct a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)-capable laboratory, potentially allowing for researchers to work on classified projects without having to go to Oak Ridge. Several new teaching labs will be on the first floor, including a Neutronics lab for the NE 401 and 402 classes, a radiochemistry teaching lab, a power plant simulator classroom, and a 60 person lecture hall. There are also multiple smaller classrooms on the upper floors.

Maybe one of the most important additions to the new building, however, may be the inclusion of a POD market convenience store on the first floor. This has been a major concern for students for a long time, as there are currently no campus dining options on The Hill (where engineering students spend most of their day).

One of the things that the department has made sure to emphasize in the new building is the inclusion of collaboration spaces for students and researchers. The plans for the building incorporate small group spaces on every floor, from tiny five person video conferencing rooms to a brand new ANS reading room, all the way up to a massive executive conference room that seats about 30 people. Currently, students in the department, undergraduates in particular, make heavy use of the NE department lounge on the 6th floor of Ferris Hall, and hopefully the collaboration spaces in the new building can serve the same purpose.

In short, it’s out with the old and in with the new for the NE department, with a whole host of exciting changes on the way. Construction is still in the earliest stages, and in the coming months, the process of decommissioning and remediating asbestos in Estabrook and Pasqua will begin in preparation for demolition. The current target opening for the new facility is August 2021.

2 comments

Jeffrey Johnson

I have one minor correction (or perhaps a clarification). In the article it is stated “According to the ANS student sections committee website, many rival institutions have hosted the conference twice or even three times (see Texas A&M), while UTK has never hosted the event.” Depending on whether “hosting” implies at the university, the UTK NE department hosted the Eastern Regional ANS Student Conference in 1980. The meeting was held in Gatlinburg, TN. I was the conference chair. I will point out that back then, there were regional student conferences instead of just one single conference because there were more departments. If they are only going back to when the student conference was integrated into a single conference, then the statement is technically correct.

Thank you for clarifying, Mr. Johnson! The student sections committee only lists conferences dating back to 2001, and makes no mention of previous regional conferences. We will make note of this detail in the article.

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