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Juliana Pacheco Duarte
8/30/2022

Focus on new faculty: Juliana Pacheco Duarte, enhancing the safety of nuclear reactors

Written By: Adam Malecek

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As an undergraduate student majoring in physics, Juliana Pacheco Duarte participated in a nuclear engineering workshop, and toured a nuclear power plant and a research reactor. That experience and her desire to help advance a reliable, zero-carbon energy source prompted her to shift her educational focus to nuclear engineering.

Today, her research focuses on analyzing the safety of nuclear reactors—both current reactors and advanced reactors—using a mix of experimental and computational methods.

In her experimental research, Duarte develops and applies advanced instrumentation techniques to better understand thermal-hydraulic phenomena, such as heat transfer and fluid mechanics, in the core of nuclear reactors. And she uses her experimental data to improve computational models that are used for reactor safety analysis.

Duarte joined the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics as an assistant professor in fall 2022. She comes to UW-Madison from Virginia Tech, where she was an assistant professor in the nuclear engineering program in the mechanical engineering department.

Duarte says a big challenge that she aims to address with her research is dealing with uncertainty in the models related to certain heat transfer phenomena that occur in reactors during an accident scenario. A significant reason for that uncertainty is a lack of reliable data. “So that’s why we go into the lab, do more experiments and collect more data: to try to understand the phenomena and improve the models and decrease our uncertainties in the safety analysis,” she says.

While much of her research has been on light water reactors, which are the most common type of nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States and abroad, Duarte plans to broaden the scope of her research at UW-Madison.

“One of the reasons that I came to UW-Madison was to expand my research into advanced nuclear reactors and collaborate with faculty here on ways to improve safety in the next generation of nuclear power plants,” she says. “The engineering physics department also has a very strong group of fusion researchers, and I’m excited to collaborate with them on safety aspects of fusion reactors.”

In addition, at UW-Madison Duarte plans to research different types of coolant, such as molten salt and liquid metals, that are being proposed for new advanced reactors.

“With the excellent experimental facilities and faculty at UW-Madison, including a lot of materials science expertise in molten salt, I’m excited to collaborate in this area and make contributions on the safety and heat transfer side,” she says. “The Department of Engineering Physics is very strong, and also very collaborative, and because of that I believe I’ll have a lot of opportunities to grow and also recruit exceptional students in nuclear engineering here.”

Duarte, who is from Brazil, earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a bachelor’s degree in physics from the State University of Campinas, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Sao Paulo. She received her PhD in nuclear engineering and engineering physics from UW-Madison in 2018, with Professor Michael Corradini as her advisor.

She says UW-Madison stood out to her when she was applying to PhD programs due to its world-class experimental facilities and the engineering physics department’s outstanding reputation. And she made good use of those experimental facilities as a PhD student. Her doctoral research involved conducting experiments using a high-pressure loop that simulates the heat transfer in small modular light water reactors, and she says that experience doing experimental research has expanded the range of applications and areas she can contribute to with her work.

In addition to her research, Duarte is passionate about teaching and working with students—including providing valuable opportunities for hands-on learning. “I especially enjoy recruiting undergraduate students to work on research projects in my lab, which allows students with different levels of experience to work together and explore computational research or assist with experiments,” she says.


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