Brian Wirth, an authority in the ways materials behave in extreme environments, has been named the ninth University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair.

Brian-WirthBrian Wirth, an authority in the ways materials behave in extreme environments, has been named the ninth University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair.

Wirth is currently an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, which he joined in 2002 following several years as a materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Wirth leads a number of research projects funded by various U.S. Department of Energy offices to investigate the performance of nuclear fuels and structural materials in nuclear environments. He expects this research to lead to improved prediction of the longevity of nuclear reactor components and ultimately the development of high-performance, radiation resistant materials for advanced nuclear fission and fusion energy applications.

“Through the Governor’s Chair program and the UT-Oak Ridge partnership, the university continues to enhance the stature of our faculty by adding the best researchers in fields critical to the future of our state and nation,” UT Interim President Jan Simek said.

Wirth will serve in the Department of Nuclear Engineering in the College of Engineering at UT Knoxville and in ORNL’s computer science and mathematics division. The Governor’s Chair Program is funded by the state of Tennessee and ORNL.

“Over time, the Governor’s Chair program has brought together a diversity of expertise that well represents the goals we set for it,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen. “Attracting top scientists and researchers like Brian Wirth as Governor’s Chairs continues to broaden and enhance the unique partnership that exists between the University of Tennessee, as the state’s flagship university and ORNL, the country’s largest multi-program laboratory.”

Wirth will serve as the Governor’s Chair for radiation effects on materials.

Wirth’s research plays a key role in America’s energy future now that nuclear power is back on the table as a viable energy source as America strives to be more energy independent and emit less carbon. New American energy policy aims to ensure existing nuclear power plants are upgraded and operating at close to full capacity, and new ones are in the works so that nuclear power has a bigger piece of the energy production pie. Wirth’s research ensures this is done safely and efficiently.

As nuclear reactors’ licenses go up for renewal, Wirth is examining the effects of 40 to 60, or even up to 80 years of extreme temperatures and constant radiation have on specific reactor materials. Certain materials may not be tough enough to withstand future use, creating the danger of a vessel failure or even a meltdown. As well, Wirth’s research aims to define the materials operating limits for advanced nuclear reactor technologies that are currently being designed. In sum, his research plays a critical role in ensuring nuclear power plant upgrades and lifetime extensions are done safely and that advanced nuclear reactors can operate more efficiently.

Wirth’s nuclear engineering expertise arrives in a place integral to the birth of nuclear energy, ORNL — once again taking a leadership role in the future of nuclear energy.

Click here to read the full article.

Source: Earth Times
Photo: University of Tennessee, Knoxville