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A nuclear engineer researches and develops the processes, instruments, and systems used to get benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment.
A nuclear engineer will typically do the following:
Nuclear engineers are also on the forefront of developing uses of nuclear material for medical imaging devices, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. They also may develop or design cyclotrons that produce a high-energy beam that the healthcare industry uses to treat cancerous tumors.
Nuclear engineers typically work in offices. However, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed; for example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants.
Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Bachelor's degree programs typically are four-year programs and encompass classroom, laboratory, and field studies in areas that include mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain experience while completing their education. Some universities offer five-year programs leading to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
A graduate degree allows a nuclear engineer to work as an instructor at a university or engage in research and development. Some five-year or even six-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.
Nuclear engineers who work for nuclear power plants are not required to be licensed. However, they are eligible to seek licensure as professional engineers. Those who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineer (PE). Licensure is recommended and generally requires the following:
Beginning nuclear engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning nuclear engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, nuclear engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become engineering managers or move into managerial positions or sales work. Nuclear engineers have the background needed to become medical physicists, who work in the relatively new field of nuclear medicine. A master’s degree is necessary for an engineer to enter this field.
Nuclear engineers work with nuclear energy, nuclear waste, medical physics and more. They may also be active in design and nuclear research. These are the top graduate schools for nuclear engineering programs in the USA.
Nuclear engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Employers also value experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are also valuable.
Nuclear engineers use mathematics and science to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work brings commercial applications and scientific discoveries together to meet consumer and social needs.
Considerable preparation is needed for candidates going into this field. Engineers derive economical solutions to technical problems by applying scientific and mathematical principles.
For more than 15 years, nuclear engineer Sarah Kovaleski has worked in an industry where there are nine men to every woman. She explains how she became a leader in her field – and that belonging can mean being different.
Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation.
If you want to become a nuclear engineer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a nuclear engineer.
For this instalment, we interviewed Jack Gamble. Jack’s a nuclear system engineer. Many thanks to Jack and his green-glowing fingers for typing us out these answers.