Outside students seek opportunity to conduct nuclear engineering research

outside students seek opportunity to conduct nuclear engineering faculty research 

Students both across the nation and abroad were given the opportunity to participate in ongoing research with the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University through the Dwight Look College of Engineering’s Undergraduate Summer Research Grant program.

 The program selects students from a pool of candidates who have completed their sophomore year, are academically qualified and have a desire to pursue research initiatives. Those selected receive a stipend and are awarded credit hours for their research contributions.

International student Mariana Guerra from Brazil is a senior energy engineering major and saw an opportunity to do research at Texas A&M while in Denton, Texas, via an exchange program with her university to study the English language.

“I chose to come here to Texas A&M and it was my first choice,” Guerra said. “We talk a lot about Texas A&M in Brazil because of the nuclear department and because of how it relates to my field of study, so I know all the resources and research that Texas A&M provides, and so that was why it was my wish to come here.”

Guerra’s research was focused on information technology and efforts to produce emerging energy solutions.

“Energy and water are very connected,” Guerra said. “The most important part of my research was how we can use information systems to produce potable water and how we can use this to help create energy. I know about energy and I know that nuclear is a good source of energy. We have a lot of renewable sources, but I see that I can help replace our energies with renewable energies to crate something more sustainable.”

Guerra was paired with Dr. Pavel Tsvetkov as her faculty advisor during her 10-week research opportunity. Tsvetkov also worked with Grant Varnau, an undergraduate physics major at San Diego State University who participated in research on possible advances in radiation therapy.

The opportunity was beneficial for Varnau, who has an interest in pursuing graduate studies in nuclear engineering but lacked a nuclear engineering program at San Diego State University.

“I had wanted to apply to this school as a undergraduate, and to be here was really neat,” Varnau said. “It’s been a fun experience for me to be here and see what the school is like and to be able to focus my research where I wanted to.”

Varnau’s research focused on radiation therapies, specifically on the distribution of particles known as alphameters within biological material such as bone, skin and other tissue. Using a specialized computer program known as “Stopping In Range of Ions and Matter,” Varnau looked at their distribution through the tissue to get a measure of radiation damage per the amount of radiation emitted in theoretical treatments.

The research still requires experimental verification, but Varnau believes it could be a good tool to help estimate radiation damage during chemotherapy treatments, and hopes to further his research and pursue graduate studies in nuclear engineering.

“We can use this program to get conservative estimates on radiation damage and biological materials, so if you give this program to anyone in the field, they can use it to better understand the radiation damage,” Varnau said.