|U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced nearly $9 million in awards to support the next generation of American nuclear energy development. Monmouth College received part of that award, with $171,000 being designated to the school for the enhancement of nuclear science education through the purchase of new sources and detectors for nuclear physics courses.
Under the Nuclear Energy Universities Program (NEUP), the Department of Energy is providing $2.9 million in scholarships and fellowships to 86 U.S. nuclear science and engineering students, and offering more than $6 million in grants to 29 U.S. universities and colleges in 23 states. Of those 29, Monmouth was by far the smallest institution in terms of enrollment. Others receiving awards included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley and four Big Ten schools -- Michigan, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
"America's leadership in nuclear energy research will be critical in addressing the country's long term energy independence and climate change goals," said Secretary Chu. "We need to ensure that the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers have the training they need to research, design, build, operate and maintain U.S. nuclear power plants. Investing in these students' educations and the necessary infrastructure and equipment at their universities will help keep the United States at the research forefront for this important zero-carbon energy source."
Chris Fasano, chair of MC's physics department, wrote the grant proposal, and he was thrilled that it was well received by the Department of Energy.
"I am so pleased with the opportunities that this grant will allow us to offer to our students," said Fasano. "The equipment that we will buy with this generous grant from the DOE will allow us to teach students about the role of nuclear materials and radiation in our technological world, as well as the fundamentals of nuclear physics. Since nuclear energy will likely grow in importance, we are very pleased to have this grant"
Fasano's proposal called for the addition of nuclear experimental equipment including sources of radiation (gamma and neutron) and detection systems (high resolution spectrometer, additional NaI detectors and materials for neutron detection).
"This infrastructure will enable us to enhance the laboratory component of our current nuclear physics course and develop new courses in health physics and 'radiation and the environment,'" said Fasano.
In the proposal, Fasano stressed that liberal arts colleges like Monmouth excel in the education of future scientists.
"We work hard and intentionally to produce science and engineering students who are not only excellent in their discipline, but who are also good communicators, good thinkers, and ethical and thoughtful citizens," he wrote. "This broad education of science and engineering students at places like Monmouth has proven fruitful. Chemistry Nobel Laureate Thomas R. Cech reported that when examining the fraction of students going on to earn Ph.D.'s in science and engineering, of the top 25 institutions, 11 are from liberal arts colleges."
Fasano also cited Cech's argument that liberal arts colleges educate students differently in important ways. Laboratory experiences tend to be more open ended and "more like mini-research experiences," according to Cech. "Classroom and laboratory experiences are more personal, while the emphasis on a broad distribution of non-science courses promotes the development of critical thinking skills and facility with written and oral communication."
(Submitted by Monmouth College)