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New team to lead MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory

Gordon Kohse, Jacopo Buongiorno, and Lance Snead will co-lead the laboratory; David Moncton will step down after 15 years of service.
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Left to right: Gordon Kohse, Jacopo Buongiorno, Lance Snead
Left to right: Gordon Kohse, Jacopo Buongiorno, Lance Snead
Photos courtesy of the researchers

The Office of the Vice President for Research announced the appointment of a new leadership team for the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL). The team will consist of Gordon Kohse, managing director for operations; Jacopo Buongiorno, science and technology director and director for strategic R&D partnerships; and Lance Snead, senior advisor for strategic partnerships and business development and leader of the NRL Irradiation Materials Sciences Group. The team will succeed David Moncton, who plans to return to his research after taking a department head sabbatical. Moncton has served as director of the NRL since 2004.

The new leadership team will collectively oversee an updated organizational model for the NRL that will allow the laboratory to more closely align its operations with the scientific research agenda of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and other MIT researchers. “I look forward to working with this thoughtful and experienced team as they implement their vision for a vibrant operation supporting the critical work of our research community,” says Maria Zuber, vice president for research.

Kohse, a principal research scientist with the NRL and previously the deputy director of research and services, has worked with the NRL for over 40 years, ensuring the smooth operation of experiments at the laboratory. As managing director for operations, Kohse will oversee reactor operations, the newly created program management group, quality assurance, and the irradiation engineering group, and will work closely with Lance Snead on overseeing the Irradiation Materials Sciences Group. Kohse says, “I look forward to a new chapter in my work at the NRL. This is an exciting opportunity to build on the skills and dedication of the laboratory staff and to renew and strengthen cooperation with MIT faculty. My goal is to continue safe, reliable operation of the reactor, and to expand its capabilities in the service of expanding missions in nuclear research and education.”

In his new NRL leadership role, Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, will oversee the NRL’s Centers for Irradiation Materials Science. These centers will focus on a variety of research questions ranging from new nuclear fuels, to in-core sensors, to nuclear materials degradation. All experimental research utilizing the MIT reactor will be coordinated through the Centers for Irradiation Materials Science. Ongoing and installed programs will be managed through the program management group.

Buongiorno is also the director of the Center for Advanced Energy Systems (CANES), which is one of eight Low-Carbon-Energy Centers (LCEC) of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI); he is also the director of the recently completed MIT study on the Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World. 

Buongiorno and Snead, an MIT research scientist and former corporate fellow with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will spearhead efforts to expand external collaborations with federal and industry sponsors and work with MIT’s faculty to identify ways the NRL can provide the needed experimental support for their research and education objectives. “Our vision is to grow the MIT reactor value to MIT’s own research community as well as position it at the center of the worldwide efforts to develop new nuclear technologies that contribute to energy security and decarbonization of the global economy,” says Buongiorno. 

This new leadership team will build on NRL’s accomplishments under the direction of David Moncton. Moncton was instrumental in the 20-year relicensing of the reactor, led the NRL in developing the research program which boasts the most productive and innovative program for in-core studies of structural materials, new fuel cladding composites, new generations of nuclear instrumentation based on ultrasonic sensors and fiber optics, and studies of the properties of liquid salt in a radiation environment for use as a coolant in a new generation of high-temperature reactors. The NRL has become a key partner of the Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) sponsored by Idaho National Laboratory, and it has established a world-class reputation for its in-core irradiation program.

Anne White, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, notes, “The unique capabilities of NRL together with the Centers for Irradiation Materials Science will create a new and exciting nexus for nuclear-related research and education at MIT, opening up opportunities not only for faculty in the nuclear science and engineering department (Course 22), but across the entire Institute.”

The new leadership team will begin their tenure effective Aug. 1, 2019.  

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