Nuclear engineering professor receives American Nuclear Society award

Gabrielle Stewart
October 08, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Kenan Ünlü, director of Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) and professor of nuclear engineering, was selected to receive the 2020 Radiation Science and Technology Award from the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Isotopes and Radiation Division (IRD). He will be honored at the ANS Winter Meeting, held virtually from Nov. 16-19.

A professor wearing glasses and a suit and tie poses for a professional headshot.

Kenan Ünlü, director of Penn State's Radiation Science and Engineering Center and professor of nuclear engineering.

IMAGE: Penn State College of Engineering

The award is presented annually only if there are worthy candidate nominations. It recognizes basic development with a particularly significant industrial application or meritorious research, the results of which must be practically confirmed and published in an established scientific journal. Creative application of radiation sciences and engineering principles is particularly emphasized. Recipients receive a plaque and a monetary award of $2,000.

Ünlü will be honored for “creative and impactful contributions to research reactor instrumentation and applications,” according to the selection committee. With more than 30 years of research reactor administration experience, Ünlü has led the expansion of research, education and new facilities for research reactors at the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University and Penn State.

Under Ünlü’s leadership, RSEC has gained national and international recognition as a teaching and research facility. Since 2012, RSEC has received more than $19 million in funding from government and internal University sources. With Ünlü’s guidance, RSEC has collaborated with several organizations, including NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Westinghouse, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Holtec, Exelon, Curtiss Wright and several national labs. Within RSEC, Ünlü has also worked to not only maintain the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, the oldest research reactor in the nation, but also enhance its capabilities as a highly ranked research reactor facility. He secured federal funds and implemented infrastructure upgrades, such as a new core-moderator assembly and beam ports. He recently arranged for the transfer of a donated small-angle neutron scattering system valued at $11 million from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin research institute in Germany.

To further broaden the scope of RSEC’s capabilities, Ünlü has collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University, with the support of the National Nuclear Security Administration, to develop a nuclear security education curriculum. Ünlü led the design of five undergraduate and graduate-level courses, nine laboratory experiments and a new laboratory for the Nuclear Security Education program within RSEC. Ünlü’s efforts led Penn State to offer the country’s first master’s degree in nuclear security in fall 2018.

Beyond educational and facility innovations, Ünlü has contributed to the research and development of neutron beam techniques and applications, resulting in consequent facility planning and construction throughout his career. He designed and implemented a research reactor-based cold neutron source at both the University of Texas at Austin and Cornell University the only United States universities with cold neutron sources created for their research reactors. Ünlü continues to explore this technology as he devises a third-generation cold neutron source at Penn State.

An ANS member since 1989, Ünlü has served as program committee chair of the IRD since 2005. In this role, he has organized and chaired numerous ANS technical sessions. He has also participated as an invited conference contributor for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Research Reactor Conference, the International Group On Research Reactors, the National Academies Keck Future Initiatives, the Nuclear Security Summit and the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy.  

Ünlü was previously a member of the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society. He is a member of several national international scientific conference committees on nuclear security and nuclear science. He is a recipient of several awards, including the 2012 Outstanding Leadership in National Nuclear Security distinction from the DOE and a Best Paper Award at the ENC 94 International Nuclear Congress.

“Receiving this award is an honor,” Ünlü said. “I’m very grateful to have been recognized by peers who are leaders in the fields of nuclear science and engineering.”


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Last Updated October 08, 2020