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May 10, 2023

Undergraduate Bao-Phong Nguyen receives award and fellowship for high-throughput materials testing

Written By: Samantha Vold

Undergraduate nuclear engineering student Bao-Phong Nguyen received the Best Undergraduate Nuclear Fuels and Materials Presentation award at the 2023 ANS Student Conference for his paper entitled “High-Throughput Study for Examining Void Swelling Behavior in Ion Irradiated SS304.” Nguyen was also awarded a Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship, which provides a stipend for students and faculty advisers to support their research efforts.

Nguyen is a junior conducting research in the lab of Associate Professor Adrien Couet, under the guidance of graduate student Nathan Curtis. The goal of the research study is to identify a methodology that will shorten the timespan between material design and material deployment for advanced nuclear reactor technologies. In their current study, Nguyen focused on stainless steel 304, an already well-studied material used in light-water reactors today. Having a well-studied material like this allows for them to look back on previously collected data for validation purposes. With the establishment of the methodology, they hope to move on to high-entropy alloys, a new class of materials that have evidenced good mechanical properties and resistance to radiation damage.

In a nuclear reactor, neutron flux damages the materials composing the reactor pressure vessel, internal elements, and fuel and control rods. Ion irradiation is a technique used to mimic the damage caused by these neutrons in a reactor, allowing materials to be tested for resistance to radiation at a fraction of the cost compared to a reactor. Nguyen works in the Ion Beam Laboratory, where they generate nickel ions and send them through a particle accelerator to collide with samples at high energies. Then, using techniques such as scanning electron microscopy, profilometry, and focused ion beams, he can characterize the damage. Using the high-throughput irradiation setup, they can irradiate up to 25 samples at once, speeding up testing of materials by about a couple order of magnitudes.

Nguyen decided to pursue research to learn more about what he was interested in within the field of nuclear engineering. He previously heard of the nuclear engineering materials certificate and reached out to Professor Couet to learn more. Through that connection, Nguyen was offered the opportunity to get involved in research with the Materials Degradation under Corrosion and Radiation (MADCOR) group. Conducting research has certainly helped Nguyen narrow his interests la as he would like to continue his studies in graduate school, focusing on radiation damage in materials and dig deeper into material degradation in extreme environments.

For students interested in research, Nguyen says to try to get involved early. It’s a great way to learn more about the field of nuclear engineering early on in your undergraduate career. Finding a research lab is as simple as perusing the faculty webpages to learn about their research and sending an email to connect with them to learn more.

Nguyen also says it’s important to remember, “You can achieve whatever you work toward. My mindset since high school has just been, ‘If you keep working, then good things will come your way.’”