MSU professors receive $1.6 million for two nuclear energy research projects

Contact: James Carskadon

Studio portrait of Zhenhua Tian
Zhenhua Tian (Photo by Kristen Polk)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Faculty members in Mississippi State University’s departments of Aerospace Engineering and Geosciences are advancing nuclear energy technology with $1.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for two separate projects.

Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Zhenhua Tian is serving as principal investigator for an $800,000 grant to develop and validate wireless, ultrasonic sensor arrays for real-time monitoring of welded dry canisters that store spent nuclear fuels. Rinat Gabitov, associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, is receiving $800,000 for a project to advance the functionality of engineered barrier systems through the addition of phosphate minerals in backfill mixtures, potentially improving the materials’ sorption/uptake of radionuclides in water breach scenarios.

The grants are part of 99 advanced nuclear energy projects recently announced by the DoE as part of the federal agency’s efforts to bolster the resiliency and use of nuclear energy, the largest domestic source of carbon-free energy.

Studio portrait of Rinat Gobitav
Rinat Gabitov (Photo by Russ Houston)

“Nuclear power is critical to America’s clean energy future and we are committed to making it a more accessible, affordable and resilient energy solution for communities across the country,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “At DOE we’re not only investing in the country’s current nuclear fleet, but we’re also investing in the scientists and engineers who are developing and deploying the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies that will slash the amount of carbon pollution, create good-paying energy jobs, and realize our carbon-free goals.”

Collaborators on Tian’s project include Junbo Zhao, MSU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, along with researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Intelligent Automation, Inc. and Orano Federal Services, LLC. The researchers aim to overcome the many challenges that come with using external sensors to monitor spent nuclear fuel containers, such as harsh temperatures, radiation, thick canister walls, and limited access to sensing areas.

Gabitov’s project will be carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alabama and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The project aims to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of backfill mixtures and advance current knowledge of mineralogical and geochemical aspects critical to nuclear environmental remediation.

“MSU has a long history of leading innovative energy research and preparing graduates to excel in energy-related careers,” said MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan. “These awards to Dr. Tian and Dr. Gabitov are a reflection of their individual expertise and the dynamic ways MSU researchers are contributing to the creation of an energy-secure future.”

MSU’s Department of Aerospace Engineering is part of the university’s James Worth Bagley College of Engineering. For more, visit

The Department of Geosciences is part of the College of Arts and Sciences. For more, visit

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