In college, Caleb Massey, Ph.D., wanted to learn more about the materials used in nuclear reactors. How are they designed to withstand such extreme environments? What role do national laboratories play in supporting the commercial vendors in the design of these materials?
Over the course of his undergraduate and graduate careers, Massey explored these questions and more as a research participant in Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE)-administered programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Building off these internship experiences, Massey recently joined ORNL as a research and development staff member in the Nuclear Fuel Materials Group, where he specializes in advanced cladding concepts and metallic fuel forms for advanced nuclear reactors.
“My experiences as an intern at ORNL were not only rewarding professionally and personally, but they were also highly impactful. I was able to contribute meaningfully to the development of new, accident-tolerant fuel cladding candidate materials, while simultaneously preparing myself to pursue my Ph.D., which ultimately landed me this opportunity at ORNL.”
Massey arrived at ORNL in the summer of 2014 as an undergraduate from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). During his internship through the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) Program, he focused on a newly built apparatus known as the loss-of-coolant accident test station, which simulated accident scenarios similar to the Fukushima Daiichi incident in 2011. His research on the burst behavior of alloys during such accidents was published in the Journal of Nuclear Materials, and the tests he performed are still being used as benchmarks for modeling and simulation efforts. Additionally during his HERE internship, Massey helped evaluate an oxidation-resistant FeCrAl alloy, now considered a potential fuel cladding material for light water reactors.
As a VCU graduate student, Massey returned to ORNL to participate in the Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis (NESLS) Program. Through NESLS, he used atomic-scale resolution microscopy methods to study advanced materials and optimize their mechanical properties.
During his time as an ORISE participant, Massey learned the importance of patience, planning and collaboration in a research setting.
“What is often overlooked is the incredible complexity associated with many of the projects and experiments that students are involved in,” Massey said.
Even with the complexities that come with scientific research, Massey noted, it’s important that interns not lose sight of the big picture.
“Many students come into the lab and have an incredibly focused project, and sometimes it is hard to take a step back and view the project in terms of its larger fit as one puzzle piece in a much larger mosaic,” he said. “The beauty of these programs is that students can get targeted experience in a specific area, while simultaneously furthering what is usually an important part of a larger effort.”
After his participation in the HERE and NESLS programs, Massey earned a doctoral degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, while continuing to conduct research at ORNL alongside his mentor, Kurt Terrani, Ph.D., a senior staff scientist. This collaboration eventually led to his full-time position at the lab.
“My experiences as an intern at ORNL were not only rewarding professionally and personally, but they were also highly impactful,” Massey said. “I was able to contribute meaningfully to the development of new, accident-tolerant fuel cladding candidate materials, while simultaneously preparing myself to pursue my Ph.D., which ultimately landed me this opportunity at ORNL.”
The HERE and NESLS programs at ORNL are administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.