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As we begin 2017, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on all the tremendous accomplishments Douglass Henderson of our department in the past year. In this newsletter, it’s my pleasure to share with you some of the recent achievements of our students, faculty and alumni. This past year, our students continued to exceed the bar set before them, winning honors in the American Nuclear Society’s student design competition and in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Cleantech University Prize National Competition. We’re very proud of our talented, creative students, and their achievements speak to the excellence of our department, which is consistently one of the highest ranked in the country. Longtime and popular faculty members Michael Corradini and Gregory Moses, and Distinguished Research Professor John Santarius retired this past summer. While the department will miss their dynamic lectures, witty comments and experienced wisdom, the retirements provide us with an excellent



Contact: Aaron Mullins (608) 308-5287

chance to reassess our current research thrusts and strengths, and to consider how we may use this moment to take the department into new areas by making strategic hires. Though challenging, it’s also a time of great opportunity. One of the department’s top priorities is to provide our faculty with financial support that gives them the ability to carry out their dynamic research. I’m happy to announce that Professor Wendy Crone has received the

Longtime engineering dean passes away As dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, Paul Peercy constantly sought ways to help students succeed in engineering. In ongoing efforts to educate “global” engineers, he focused on diverse and interdisciplinary experiences, innovations in teaching engineering, and hands-on work that connected the technical aspects of engineering students’ education with real challenges facing society. “Engineering is where science meets society,” he said in a 2012 interview, referring to myriad global challenges, including energy needs and pollution. “These are problems that can’t be solved without engineers and can’t be solved by engineers alone.” Peercy, who served as dean from 1999 until his retirement in 2013, died Oct. 20, 2016, after a lengthy illness. Read more and learn how you can make a gift in Peercy’s memory that helps carry on his commitment to undergraduate education here:


Karen Thompson Mehdi Professorship in the College of Engineering, and Professor Carl Sovinec was appointed as the Thomas and Susan Werner Professor. These awards will provide both professors with a flexible source of funding to pursue their pioneering research. As you read the following stories of our department’s accomplishments and accolades, remember that without your support and commitment many of these achievements would not be possible. It’s easy to give online at or reach out to our development director, Aaron Mullins, who would be happy to share with you the many ways your gift will benefit the department and our students. Thank you for your continued support of our department. ON, WISCONSIN! Sincerely,

Douglass Henderson Professor and Chair (608) 263-0808


An international team of researchers has created a nanoceramic material that not only can withstand Sridharan and Di Fonzo combined their the harsh effects of radiation, but also becomes tougher under radiation. Next-generation nuclear expertise through graduate students Alexander systems will operate at higher temperatures and radiation fields than ever before, producing Mairov and Francisco García Ferré, energy more efficiently and economically. who both initially worked with Traditionally, water has been used as the primary coolant in reactors, absorbing Di Fonzo while pursuing the heat released from fission reactions. Though water poses fewer risks of their master’s degrees at corrosion damage to materials, there are also limits to the temperatures up CNST-IIT. After to which water-cooled reactors can operate—and in advanced reactors, Mairov moved to increasing their temperature is the best way to increase energy production. UW-Madison to New coolants, such as liquid metals like sodium and lead, are effective obtain his PhD, he at much higher temperatures, but also are much more corrosive to the and García Ferré materials from which a nuclear reactor is made. “There is a preferred use connected the two of metallic materials for structural components, but many of these materials researchers through cannot withstand high-temperature corrosion in advanced reactors,” says their similar interests. Distinguished Research Professor Kumar Sridharan. “Corrosion is a surface Di Fonzo’s lab has Graduate student phenomenon, so if you put coating on the surface, you need that coating to been producing aluminium Alexander Mairov withstand high radiation doses without becoming embrittled.” oxide nanoceramics for Sridharan and collaborators at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Milan, a few years. Collaborating Italy, characterized an aluminium oxide nanoceramic coating—a new material that can with Sridharan’s group, which used withstand the harmful effects of these high-temperature liquid metals in advanced reactors. transmission electron microscopes to conduct This material could be a huge boon to these systems. microscopy analysis of the coating, the researchers Many materials tend to harden and crack when exposed to radiation. However, aluminium oxide developed a more thorough understanding of nanoceramic coatings toughen, ultimately benefitting from irradiation, says Fabio Di Fonzo, a team its properties. “Di Fonzo’s lab developed the leader at the IIT Center for Nano Science & Technology. “The pinpoint of our work is the demonstration coating and exposed it to radiation, and we that an amorphous or nanoceramic material can improve during irradiation, and this opens the path conducted analysis and helped them interpret (Continued on back) toward a different view of nuclear materials, specifically where coatings are concerned,” he says. 3



GARY KRELLENSTEIN Consultant BSNE ’79 MBA ’81, Cornell University; post-master’s degree, computer applications ’84, New York University

Why did you choose engineering as your major? This story is a bit bizarre, but true. The day I got my driver’s license in late 1973, I spent the next two hours in a line to get gasoline (this was during the first OPEC embargo), and they would only give me half a tank. The whole energy fiasco in the 1970s was just insane. Since I was a science geek, on a whim, I looked at schools with energy-related programs. Madison’s nuclear engineering program was very highly ranked and I had already decided to apply to UW. I never expected to stay in engineering, but I was surprised how much I liked it. In my first semester I took a survey course on nuclear engineering. It got me hooked. Prior to that gas line experience, I had planned on applying to college as a film and/or physics major. What’s your fondest memory of your time on campus? One of my favorite memories was the first toga party in Madison after the movie Animal House came out. Animal House had become an instant cult movie on campus. The party probably had a couple of

thousand people and was a memorable experience. Another favorite memory was the building of the Statue of Liberty on the ice on Lake Mendota. It looked like it came from the set of the original Planet of the Apes movie; it was the Statue of Liberty from the head up. It was really a surreal thing to see out on the lake. What lesson learned as a student has benefited you most in your career? The UW-Madison engineering program taught me a systematic approach to problem solving— much more so than I think most other disciplines did. At that time, teaching people how to approach and solve problems was the exception, not the norm, for most college curriculums. What advice would you give students in your discipline today? For engineering students, I’d tell them to keep going back to school and/or stay active in their field outside of their specific job. Keep current with what’s going on. Don’t think that what you learned to get your BS will be sufficient. I went straight to business school at Cornell after graduating Madison, and after I started working, I went to NYU at night to get a degree in computer science. ... One thing I can tell engineering students in general is that they

EP ALUM BRECKENFELD ACCEPTS POLICY POSITION WITH AAAS, For alum Eric Breckenfeld, pursuing a career in policy as a scientist involved—in many ways—taking an interest in the right things, at the right time. Breckenfeld, who was recently appointed an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) science and technology policy fellow at the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), took an early interest in STEM education and sustainable energy. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison, the freedom of the engineering physics major allowed him to take a variety of courses that stimulated his interest in these topics, which are now at the forefront of innovation in engineering. For instance, as a senior, he took a course through the Department of Educational Psychology that involved developing an educational video game. With the Epistemic Games Group, led by Professor David Shaffer, he was able to work with other students to build a game called Nephrotex, a bioengineering module that takes students through the challenges of building a medical device in a bioengineering company. This experience was the root of his continued interest in STEM education. 4

After completing his senior thesis and graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics with a focus in nanotechnology, Breckenfeld—a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin—moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue his PhD in materials science and engineering. After receiving his PhD, Breckenfeld accepted a research position at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., as an NRC postdoctoral fellow. He continued (and still continues) to do STEM-related volunteer work in his free time, working at Eric Breckenfeld schools in Virginia and D.C. to help teachers set up scientific demonstrations for K-12 students. In May of 2015, with the aim of pursuing his passion for STEM education in a non-university setting, he applied to the AAAS science and technology policy fellow program. After a months-long interview process in which AAAS weighed the skills of applicants and matched their strengths with those of specific government offices, Breckenfeld was offered placement within several executive branch offices, ultimately choosing the NNCO. He began his new position in September 2016. “A lot of scientists don’t really have an

Gregory Vershbow

should try to beef up their writing and public speaking skills. Economics, finance, art, music, history, and psychology: These should all be requirements. If you had to do it all over and pick a major other than engineering, what would it be? I still wonder if I could have made it in the movie industry, and sometimes wish I had tried. I do love working in the energy-finance field, and it was very rewarding for me. What are your hobbies/interests? I’m a movie geek and an audiophile. I’m probably on my 15th stereo/home theater system. I also like to travel; ski and scuba dive, and I love fast convertibles. I’ve gone multiple times to the Caribbean and Pacific coast of Mexico to scuba dive and do deepwater fishing with a bunch of friends. I may need to stop skiing this year. I’m in my 60s now. I thought I was invincible when I was in my 30s going down Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek—if I couldn’t make it down in five minutes, I was doing something wrong. For years I skied double blacks; now I’m only doing blues and taking my time going down the mountain.

NUCLEAR RESEARCHERS RECEIVE $3 MILLION IN DOE GRANTS The U.S. Department of Energy awarded more than $35 million through its Nuclear Energy University Program in 2016 to support university-led nuclear energy research and development projects, including a total of about $3 million in grants for UW-Madison researchers.

FINDS NEW CAREER PATH IN GOVERNMENT idea of what the other side of the coin looks like,” he says. “As students, we only saw what our academic advisor’s career paths looked like— postdoc, professorship, tenure. But there’s a whole other side in government—what does government work for a scientist look like? So that’s the point of the fellowship: to help scientists better understand what goes on in government.”

By joining a larger discussion about the broad implications of fields like nanotechnology, Breckenfeld is taking steps to improve scientific literacy and community engagement. For the next two years, he will be working with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office—which provides services such as technical support, administrative support, R&D coordination and public outreach on behalf of the White House’s National Nanotechnology Initiative—to help fuse his interests in both sustainability and STEM outreach, with an overarching focus in

nanotechnology. Above all, this position will allow him to greatly expand his scope—since most of his career so far has involved studying interesting, but narrow avenues of research. So far, his involvement has allowed him to help organize technical workshops, perform outreach, develop nanoscience education materials, and work with educators. He acts as a point of contact between government offices, academic researchers and industry professionals, helping organizations coordinate their research efforts, and thus build better connections. By doing so, he plays a fundamental role in the implementation and commercialization of nanoscale research—a major goal of the nanotech coordination office. “I won’t be in a lab,” he says. “I’d like to get away from the bench for a bit and start looking at broader issues with more societally relevant implications. The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office will allow me to pursue both STEM education and energy sustainability, while also building upon my technical background in nanotechnology.”

• Distinguished Research Professor Kumar Sridharan (pictured left) received $800,000 for his proposal, “Tribological behavior of structural materials in high temperature helium gas-cooled reactor environments.” • Assistant Professor Raluca Scarlat (middle) received $400,000 for her proposal, “Experimental and modeling investigation of overcooling transients that include freezing in fluoride-salt cooled high-temperature reactors.” • Research Professor Mark Anderson (right) received $799,856 for his proposal, “Enhancement of EM pump performance through modeling and testing.” Anderson also garnered $799,076 in DOE support for the proposal, “Sodium cooled fast reactor key modeling and analysis for commercial deployment.” Anderson will also collaborate on a project led by Georgia Institute of Technology. The researchers will use both experimental and computational methods to test and model transient behavior of a mockup PCHE, a scaleddown representation of the supercritical carbon dioxide cycle high temperature recuperator. Additionally, Anderson and Wisconsin Distinguished Professor Emeritus Michael Corradini will collaborate on a project led by Texas A&M University. The researchers aim to extend and enhance the experimental tests previously conducted using the existing watercooled reactor cavity cooling system at Texas A&M University and UW-Madison, in close collaboration with the water-cooled natural convection shutdown heat-removal research team at Argonne National Laboratory. 5

UW-Madison team impresses judges at


Our nuclear engineering students were among the top award recipients in the American Nuclear Society’s student design competition. The team—Alex Gross, Andrew Maile, Jordan Rein—entered its design for a molten-chloride high temperature reactor in the undergraduate category of the competition. The team designed the reactor as part of a capstone project for a nuclear engineering course taught by lecturer John Murphy. The students’ goal was to design a reactor that used molten salt to cool the uranium and plutonium fuels instead of using water, the coolant for most current nuclear reactors in the United States. A molten salt coolant makes for a safer reactor, Maile says, by allowing the reactor to operate at a lower pressure. And, the salt is inherently safe since it would solidify if the reactor were to overheat. The team collaborated with Southern Company, a leading U.S. nuclear energy company that received a $40 million DOE grant for research into molten chloride reactors. Southern Company helped the team learn what would make its design feasible from an industrial implementation standpoint. “The idea seemed far-fetched at first,” says Rein, “but working with Southern Company and seeing this type of reactor gain momentum is really exciting.”

The team presented its design at the ANS winter meeting in November 2016 along with finalists from Purdue and Texas A&M, and the judges ranked the UW-Madison team at the top of the finalists list. The students reflected on the project as a valuable experience that allowed them to learn more about the nuclear industry and acquire new computational modeling skills. “You spend four years learning all of this,” says Rein, “but to apply it helps you learn in a much deeper way.”




In 2013, Brian Cornille, as a UW-Madison undergraduate, received a Barry Goldwater Scholarship. In 2016, as a second-year engineering physics doctoral student, he carried on this tradition of achievement as a Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellow. The fellowship supports Cornille’s research involving computational plasma physics and magnetic confinement fusion, an approach to develop fusion energy. To create energy with magnetic confinement fusion, researchers turn fuel—usually a mixture of deuterium and tritium—into a plasma, contain it with magnetic fields, and heat it up in attempt to get high-energy collisions to occur. Cornille makes models to inform this process, using a virtual thermonuclear experimental reactor to simulate how plasma sits in a magnetic field and what happens when you heat or perturb it. In particular, he explores what happens when you lose control of the plasma—when you get what he calls a disruption. “The problem with disruptions,” Cornille explains, “is that they break your multi-billion dollar machines.” Cornille and 26 other fellows across the country comprise the fellowship’s largest yet cohort of up-and-coming leaders in computational science. The fellowship offers full tuition and fee reimbursement and is renewable for up to four years. And, it includes an annual program review, Cornille says, which will be an opportunity for him to share ideas and discover opportunities within a close-knit network of fellows and alumni. Another benefit of the fellowship is a three-month practicum at one of 21 participating DOE laboratory sites nationwide. Cornille found a project that relates to a niche numerical methods topic that he is interested in at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary national security laboratory, so he proposed to do his practicum there. But perhaps more valuable than these perks is the academic freedom that the fellowship affords by providing funding that isn’t tied to grants with particular outcomes. “So I’m able to be more exploratory,” says Cornille.


FROM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING & WISCONSIN ENERGY INSTITUTE Back in 2005, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Engineering Physics Michael Corradini sent an email to then chancellor John Wiley to make a case for creating an energy institute at the UW–Madison. What the campus needed, he argued, was an energy meta-center that could help facilitate and expand the university’s clean energy research and education. “And he [Wiley] answers me back early in the morning,” Corradini recalls, half-smiling, “and types back, just one line, ‘So what are you going to do about it?’” Corradini, who retired in August 2016 from the College of Engineering and from his position of director of the Wisconsin Energy Institute (WEI), spent more than a decade coming up with an answer to that question. Looking back, Corradini traced the incremental route through which the WEI became reality, the paperwork and proposals, the meetings, and the chance conversations and connections. “In typical Madison fashion—and I still think this is the way good things happen around here—it happened organically,” Corradini says. “There was an interest, there was a need, and, over the years, a group of faculty put it all together.” Though Corradini was not alone in creating WEI as it exists today—starting in 2007, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) director Tim Donohue also played a significant role—Corradini was the first moving the ball forward. He’s been WEI’s director since 2006 and was there to open the doors of its new building on University Avenue in 2013. “Mike likes to credit achievements to the people around him,” says Donohue, who worked extensively with Corradini when WEI was evolving into the administrative home for the GLBRC. “But make no mistake, he’s been a major driver of WEI and we simply wouldn’t be here today without his knowledge of the sector, his passion for engaging people from all corners of campus, the state, industry, and the world, and his decades of experience in energy issues.” “If one looks at energy programs around the world,” Donohue adds, “they are often focused on physical sciences and engineering for historical and technical reasons. However, Mike saw the opportunity to plug biology into the energy grid of WEI and he embraced it in a way that now sets UW–Madison apart from its peers.”

Corradini also says that WEI has helped expand new areas of research interest on campus, especially in the areas of high-value chemical products and electricity systems. In 2015, WEI increased its research funding by 16 percent, an increase Corradini says shows WEI is successfully securing funding in an extremely competitive environment. For Corradini, though, it’s not just about the research. “My bias,” says Corradini, “since we’re at a university, is that everything ought to have an education thrust in some way, shape, or form.” Early on in Corradini’s tenure, WEI developed an undergraduate certificate, the Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability, which now graduates about 25 students each year. And he also points to WEI’s outreach as a significant achievement.—“People forget about outreach because it’s not big money but I think it’s very important,” he says. “From the beginning we did an enormous amount of public talks about energy and its importance in society. And over the years we’ve also focused more on engaging industry.”

Corradini joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1981 after being recruited for several years by Max Carbon, who was then chair of the nuclear engineering department. Though he’d been happy researching nuclear reactor safety at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he grew convinced. “I was impressed by the people,” says Corradini. “It was the atmosphere more than anything that brought me.” In Wisconsin, Corradini has established himself as one of the nation’s foremost experts in nuclear reactor safety. Over the course of his career, he has served as chair of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, spent 15 years as a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, and more than a decade on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. Since 1991, he has also served as director of the Wisconsin Institute of Nuclear Systems. In the last decade, with Corradini at the helm, WEI has provided a new focal point for energy research, education, and outreach on the UW–Madison campus. “We’ve hired 11 new, really excellent faculty since 2009,” Corradini says. “To me that’s a really big achievement. There’s an old adage, which I firmly believe in. How do you create success at a university? You hire absolutely excellent people, figure out what they need, Tim Donohue (left) and Mike Corradini on the balcony of the Wisconsin Energy Institute building, which opened in 2013. give it to them, and then get out of the way.”


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REACTORS (Continued from page 3) the result,” says Mairov. “We correlated changes they observed in the mechanical properties with changes in the nanoscale structure.” The researchers anticipate that this unique material will be able to make next-generation reactors more safe and economical overall. “It’s a paradigm shift in the field, because so far there has not been a material that actually exploits radiation,” says García Ferré. “With this new material, we benefit from a radiation environment to tailor the evolution of the mechanical properties of the material. In particular, we are able to have a material that, by the end of its lifetime, has similar mechanical properties as when it was first exposed to radiation.”

STUDENT STARTUP NOVOMOTO PLACES AMONG TOP TEAMS IN DOE NATIONAL COMPETITION NovoMoto—an innovative startup co-founded by two graduate students—won third place and $20,000 in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Cleantech University Prize National Competition in June.

affordable alternative to kerosene by incorporating solar power technology, control and monitoring software and local partners to deliver reliable electricity to Congolese homes. Olson and Arjmand will use the prize money to complete a prototype. Aaron Olson and They returned to the DRC in Mehrdad Arjmand, NovoMoto cosummer 2016 to assemble the first founders and PhD students in engineering NovoMoto solar power kiosk. NovoMoto co-founders Aaron Olson (left) mechanics, competed against 20 other semiThe Cleantech University Prize aims and Mehrdad Arjmand (right) finalist teams in the national competition, to inspire the next generation of clean which was held at Metropolitan State University energy entrepreneurs and innovators by of Denver. The teams pitched their clean energy commercialization plans providing them with competitive funding for business development and to a panel of judges, vying for $100,000 in prizes. commercialization training and other educational opportunities. NovoMoto’s MicroPlant technology aims to provide communities in In April 2016, NovoMoto also won $90,000 in the Clean Energy Trust sub-Saharan Africa—particularly the 59 million people in the Democratic Challenge, a startup contest billed as the “largest single-day clean energy Republic of the Congo (DRC) who use kerosene to meet their lighting pitch competition in the nation.” needs—with renewable, sustainable electricity. NovoMoto provides an


UW-Madison engineering physics news, fall-winter 2016  

Highlighting the activities and accomplishments of the faculty, staff, students and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department...

UW-Madison engineering physics news, fall-winter 2016  

Highlighting the activities and accomplishments of the faculty, staff, students and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department...