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UW Crest with engineering background
September 11, 2023

Grad students shine in DOE nuclear energy research competition

Written By: Caitlin Scott and Adam Malecek


The University of Wisconsin-Madison had an especially strong showing in the U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program’s (NEUP) 2023 Innovations in Nuclear Energy Research and Development Student Competition, with graduate students winning first and second place in the open competition fuel cycle technologies category.

Claire Griesbach
Claire Griesbach

The competition recognizes and awards graduate and undergraduate students for innovative nuclear energy research publications.

Recent PhD graduate Claire Griesbach received a first place award for her journal paper, “Microstructural heterogeneity of the buffer layer of TRISO nuclear fuel particles,” which was published in the February 2023 edition of the Journal of Nuclear Materials.

In her PhD research, Griesbach aimed to better understand the failure response of a protective coating in nuclear fuel particles, which is designed to contain the harmful effects of radiation. She conducted research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she investigated the irradiation-induced micro- and nano-structural changes in the buffer layer of AGR-2 TRISO particles. Griesbach, who earned her PhD in engineering mechanics in May 2023, was advised by Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Ramathasan Thevamaran. In September 2023, she is starting a postdoctoral researcher position at ETH Zurich.

Kyle Quillin

Kyle Quillin, a PhD student in materials science and engineering, earned second place for his journal paper, “Microstructural and nanomechanical studies of PVD Cr coatings on SiC for LWR fuel cladding applications,” which was published in Surface and Coatings Technology in July 2022.

Quillin’s research is focused on the development of protective coatings for silicon carbide fuel cladding in light water reactors. Silicon carbide is an accident tolerant fuel cladding material that can greatly improve the safety performance of a reactor, should a severe loss-of-coolant accident arise, like what happened at Fukushima in 2011.

However, the silicon carbide cladding requires a protective coating on its outer surface to prevent corrosion at normal operating conditions when exposed to the reactor coolant. In the journal paper, Quillin investigated chromium coatings made using six different processes, and he identified a state-of-the-art coating process called bipolar high-power impulse magnetron sputtering that produced the best-performing coating.

“In this work, we identified a protective coating with a great blend of properties that furthers the development of silicon carbide fuel cladding, with the ultimate goal of improving the safety of future light water reactors,” he says.

Quillin’s advisor is Kumar Sridharan, Grainger Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. After completing his PhD, he will start a position as an R&D engineer with Fisher Barton in Watertown, Wisconsin.