The “I’m a Nuke” Project: The Epic Saga of Tim the Vagabond Nuclear Engineer

December 12, 2013, 7:00AMANS Nuclear CafeMark Reed

Young Member Group 200x52Like many young and restless Ph.D. recipients, Tim Lucas was stricken with insatiable wanderlust. After completing his Doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tim cast off the shackles of his societal commitments to begin a new life as a roving vagabond. Tim, who lived on his beloved boat Slick throughout grad school, set sail from Boston two years ago. He first headed south to the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal to the Galapagos. He drifted among the South Pacific archipelagos, embracing all the pleasures of peripatetic life. Eventually, he finagled his way across Asia and into the Mediterranean, where he now meanders through the Dodecanese.

This footloose, fancy-free lifestyle allows Tim ample time to reflect on his nuclear engineering education and how he can use it for the betterment of mankind. In the South Pacific, he preached the gospel of clean, sustainable energy to developing island nations... and in Europe, he seeks to proselytize the anti-nukes. Tim embodies the ideal of the nuclear engineer-a magnanimous citizen of the world whose compassion for his fellow man is surpassed only by the gruffness of his sarcasm.

Tim's epic nuclear saga inspired us to launch the "I'm a Nuke" Project as an integral part of the 2013 ANS Student Conference theme, "Public Image of the Nuclear Engineer". The theme was initially borne out of this description:

"As nuclear engineers, our work is not only technical, but political. We don't just have engineering challenges-we also have public image challenges. We can perform dazzling technical work to solve the world's energy problems, but if we fail to control our public image, all our work is in vain. As nuclear engineering professionals, it is essential that we remain conscious of the political implications of our work."

This is especially true right now. In today's uncertain post-Fukushima political climate, we sit on a cusp, a tipping point. We could progress into a global realization of the nuclear renaissance, or we could regress into a fear-driven anti-nuclear paradigm. Our conference theme "Public Image of the Nuclear Engineer" is aimed at training nuclear engineering professionals to be effective communicators. As nuclear engineers, this is just as important to our professional development-and the future of our entire discipline-as technical expertise.

The call for video subjects at the 2013 ANS Student Conference went out:

"There's an unfortunate stereotype of nuclear engineers. They're seen as extremely non-diverse and out-of-touch with modern society-remnants of the Cold War frozen in a paradigm past. We want to break that stereotype by humanizing the nuclear engineer-showing the public that today's nuclear engineers are young, diverse, and, as Steve Jobs would say, 'insanely great.' Upon their conference registration, students can sign up for a time slot to be filmed. They will sit in a comfy chair, look into the camera, and say a few things about themselves- what their passions are, why they chose to become a nuclear engineer, why they believe that nuclear energy is vital to our future, what their favorite color is, or even what their favorite reptile is. Every person will conclude their session by stating 'I'm an X, I'm a Y, I'm a Z, and I'm a Nuke'. X, Y, and Z represent three interesting or unusual aspects of their life. The goal of this project will be to put faces on nuclear engineers. It's hard to demonize someone with whom you can relate."

The videos were filmed during the Student Conference last April, and any student registrant could apply to be filmed.  The estimable polymath (and polyglot) Mike Short, who became an assistant professor at MIT this past summer, labored over the filming and subsequent editing-he is a mensch. Lenka Kollar of Argonne National Laboratory and Nuclear Undone handled social media aspects of the project. Sam Brinton, a master's student at MIT and a conference co-chair, facilitated integration into the conference program. Mark Reed, a Ph.D. student at MIT, conceived the project idea and oversaw its production.

When Mark informed Tim of this project, Tim created the crown video while aboard his boat in Southeast Asia.  This was shown on a big screen during the final banquet of the 2013 Student Conference. You can see Tim's video here:

You call see all the "I'm a Nuke" videos at Imanukecampaign on YouTube.

We encourage others to make and upload their own creative, inspiring, humorous, or sarcastic videos-anything that will successfully enhance the "public image" and "human factor" of nuclear engineers.

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mark reed 105x140Mark Reed is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mark has performed reactor modeling for the TerraPower nuclear reactor design company and risk assessment for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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