Nuclear Engineering Research

Nuclear Engineering

Pioneering Research in Nuclear Science and Engineering

With a commitment to innovation and excellence, the Utah Nuclear Engineering Program (UNEP) aims to push the boundaries of multidisciplinary nuclear-related fields. UNEP’s overarching goal is to continually make strides in the advancement of multidisciplinary nuclear-related fields such as actinide synthesis, electronics nesting, energy, and more.

Our faculty understand the importance that nuclear engineering research holds for the promise of significantly shaping our society and charting the course for a sustainable and dynamic future.



+ Construction Engineering

+ Environmental Engineering

+ Geotechnical Engineering

+ Materials Engineering

+ Nuclear Engineering

+ Structural Engineering

+ Transportation Engineering

+ Water Resources

Research Areas

Nuclear Forensics
Medical Isotope Production
Nuclear Safeguards
Radiation Detection

State-of-the-Art Labs

The University of Utah's TRIGA Nuclear Reactor

About Our Nuclear Reactor

The University of Utah is one of the few institutions in the nation that houses its own nuclear reactor, right here on campus. We've been conducting research and training on the TRIGA reactor since 1975. TRIGA stands for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics. There are currently only 35 TRIGA reactors operating in the world, with 17 in the United States.

Having our own nuclear reactor enables us to conduct research for nuclear medicine, nuclear forensics, radiation detection, and more.

+$1.3 Million Research Award to Dr. McDonald by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Dr. Luther McDonald‘s research has received the 2023 Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction: Nuclear Forensics Research Award (NFRA), with a budget of $1,395,000 to support 36-months of laboratory experiments and student development.

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Students at Work in Dr. McDonald's Lab

U.S. Department of Energy Award Secured

Nicholas Kurtyka, a Ph.D. Nuclear Engineering candidate at the U, has been honored with the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) award. The esteemed award recognizes Nicholas’s SCGSR research proposal, titled “A Mechanistic Study of the Thermal Decomposition of Studtite and its Intermediates.”

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Nicholas Kurtyka, UNEP PhD Candidate

Research Spotlight

Making Medical-Grade Isotopes

All the way at the bottom of the Periodic Table, tucked away in an inset, you’ll find a double row of unusual elements: the actinides and lanthanides. Some of these metals are abundant in the Earth’s crust, while others can only exist for split-seconds after being synthesized in advanced labs, but the chemical properties that define them are indispensable for a host of modern technologies.

Tara Mastren, Nuclear Engineering assistant professor, specializes in this chemistry and its applications at the intersection of nuclear science and medicine.

Researchers in this Area

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Dr. Cazalas's research group (CAZ-RAD) works to understand the physics and engineering of nuclear and radiation interactions, tools, and instruments for radiation detector development, advancement of the field of dosimetry, and investigation of radiation effects. This work goes into application by supporting the fields of nuclear engineering, radiation and nuclear physics, nuclear security, and radiation damage and hardness effects in electronics.

Dr. Tara Mastren is a nuclear assistant professor in the CVEEN department. Her teaching and research interests are in nuclear medicine, which targets radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s, lanthanide and actinide chemistry, and isotope production. Dr. Mastren tells all of our CVEEN students, “if you want to go into research science, get as much lab experience as possible.”

Dr. McDonald has successfully steered the development of a leading environmental radiochemistry laboratory, mentoring over thirty students, and managing $5 M in research funding. McDonald was also the University Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Nuclear Forensics Undergraduate Summer School in 2017 and 2018. Before joining Utah, McDonald performed a post-doctoral fellowship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Environmental Radiochemistry and worked as a visiting scientist at the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique in Saclay, France, after completing his Ph.D. at Washington State University in Radiochemistry.

Dr. Sjoden’s teaching interests are numerical methods and nuclear physics. As an expert in radiation transport and nuclear reactor physics, “understanding where and how radiation interacts” in any engineering application is key. In addition, Glenn also pursues development and application of numerical algorithms for modeling novel applications, integrated engineering design, and physics-based optimization employing his proficiency in High Performance Computing (HPC).

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