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What is Nuclear Engineering?
Nuclear engineering is a field focused on the development of systems, instruments, and processes deriving benefits from radiation and nuclear energy. This division of engineering can encompass a number of specialties. Nuclear engineering specialties can include:
- Medical physics
- Nuclear medicine
- Health physics
- Radiation therapy
- Diagnostic imaging
- Nuclear fuels
- Radiation protection
- Ionizing radiation measurement systems
What Do Nuclear Engineers Study?
A nuclear engineering major will gain academic knowledge and hands-on experience to understand many of the following: physics, chemistry, engineering sciences, reactor design, fluid behavior, advanced mathematics, reactor engineering, radiation measurement, medical equipment, power systems designer, and diagnostic medical equipment designer.
Nuclear engineers are unique trained to understand the intricate processes involved in the creation of nuclear energy. In addition, they have the knowledge of radiation and radioactive atoms produced in nuclear reactions. Engineers that study nuclear energy have a high degree of specialized knowledge in the analysis, design, development, research, and construction in nuclear materials.
Top Nuclear Engineering Degrees
Degree programs in nuclear engineering will take students through an intensive set of science and math-rich classes. A wide variety of degree programs are available from top ranked colleges and universities across the nation. Below you will find a summary of the most popular degree programs along with means to quickly connect with the best engineering programs available with a single click.
Nuclear Engineering Bachelor Degrees
Bachelor degree programs in nuclear engineering are conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS). Undergraduate students can expect the program to take around 4-years to complete. Programs blend general education courses such as English composition, sociology, psychology, creative writing, and economics with core courses.
Core curriculum in NE will be similar from school to school. While the classes will not be identical, the same type of classes can be expected to be part of a typical bachelor’s degree program. Classes will likely include the following:
|Foundations of Engineering||Electrical Engineering|
|Optics||Nuclear Reactor Technology|
|Statics and Particle Dynamics||Isotope Technology|
|Mechanics for Materials||Ethics and Engineering|
Nuclear Engineering Master Degrees
Master degrees in this field of study are conferred as a Master of Science (MS). Graduate students that qualify for an MS degree program can expect the program to take one to two-years to complete. The program may provide the opportunity for students to select a number of electives based on your unique areas of interest or follow a regimented track prescribed by the school.
Graduate students will take a number of focused, rigorous classes in nuclear materials and engineering while preparing an approved thesis project. Thesis projects are intended to add substantially to the existing body of knowledge in the field of study. Upon graduation, students either move into a PhD program or enter the workforce in a variety of industries.
Nuclear Engineering Doctorate Degrees
The doctoral degree program in nuclear engineering is conferred as a PhD. The degree will be found in most university course catalogs as a Doctor of Philosophy. PhD programs are intensive programs consisting of upper-level courses and are known as terminal degrees.
A terminal degree is a degree that has no additional degrees beyond it and thus the last in the series. In addition to focused coursework, students are expected to perform substantive research as part of their dissertation project. Graduates will either stay in academia to teach or perform research in the field or move into industry jobs given their unique skills and knowledge.
Nuclear Engineer Requirements
Nuclear engineers are required to have a robust set of science, math, and engineering skills. The curricular design of nuclear engineer degree programs will be different from school to school. However, a common set of courses will be taken by students across the country. Examples of foundational classes in nuclear engineering include:
- Business Management
- Materials Science
- Mechanical Engineering
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Construction Engineering
- Computational Mathematics
Employment & Nuclear Engineering Specializations
Earning a degree in nuclear engineering will most often result in a career performing the duties of a traditional NE. Students may, however, elect to pursue different careers after graduation. Specialized careers in fields similar to nuclear engineering may be a great place to start.
Concentrations akin to NE include the following careers: civil engineer, sales engineer, operation technician, radiological manager, mechanical engineer, industrial engineer, electrical engineer, electro-mechanical technician, physicist, and project manager. These career tracks will likely require students to pursue additional education and/or certifications.
Where Do Nuclear Engineers Work?
You will find professional nuclear engineers working in government research facilities, manufacturing facilities, universities, private industry, power plants, and various laboratories across the country. Job duties can span from design specialist to fabrication managers at nuclear testing facilities. Likewise, you may find these specialized engineers working with product managers and intellectual patent attorneys to develop new means to process nuclear fuels or safer ways to dispose of nuclear waste.
Engineers may find themselves dedicated to designing equipment that leverages the power of radioactive materials to solve inherent issues in a wide variety of industries such as pharmaceutical, science, medicine, agriculture, and energy.
Innovations in nuclear energy often come from engineers and scientist working hand in hand. By sharing knowledge and methodologies, innovation springs from the coalescence of atomic structures and processes to create new ways to harness and create energy.
Engineers in the nuclear space may also be dedicated resources for large-scale construction projects such as power plants. In this case, they will work closely with construction managers and regulatory agencies to erect substantive buildings that meet a designers functional specifications.
Nuclear Engineer Jobs & Career Outlook
Nuclear engineering jobs appear to be steady to growing. The employment forecast by the DOL and BLS show a steady increase in jobs in the coming decade. Niche fields such as nuclear engineering are not the only jobs in demand. Civil engineers are projected to see an 8% hike in employment numbers and sales engineers a 7% growth.
In a recent survey, nuclear engineers summarized the top skills required in the field. It is no surprise that nuclear engineers are expected to be detail-oriented, analytical, highly task oriented, ethical, and dependable. For a full list of interest codes, work styles, and survey results visit the nuclear engineering summary report.
Nuclear Engineering Associations
- American Nuclear Society (ANS)
- Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)
- MAES Latinos in Science and Engineering
- National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
- Outreach for Future Engineers (OFE)
- Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers (SASE)
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
- The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
- Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM)