History of the NE Academic Program

In response to the expanding interest in the new subject of nuclear science and engineering following the end of the Second World War, a Georgia Tech Nuclear Science Committee was formed in 1955, chaired by James Boyd, Director of the Engineering Experiment Station (EES).  The Committee recommended the construction of a Radioisotopes Laboratory and of a nuclear research reactor and the creation of a graduate program in Nuclear Science at Georgia Tech.

In 1957, the Georgia Legislature appointed a Nuclear Advisory Committee chaired by Frank Neely, the president of Rich’s department store, an old Atlanta institution, and a Georgia Tech alumnus of 1903.  The committee recommended the building of a nuclear research reactor and a Radioisotopes Center at Georgia Tech.  The Radioisotopes Center was completed in 1959 and later named the Cherry Emerson Building, after a former Georgia Tech vice-president.  The nearby Neely Nuclear Research Center, housing a 1 MWt (later upgraded to 2 MWt) heavy-water reactor designed by Walter Zinn, was dedicated in 1963 and named after Frank Neely, who had endowed the Neely Professorship in Nuclear Science.  Dr. Michael Wilkinson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory served as a part-time consultant and held the Neely Chair for few years.  A Division of Nuclear Sciences was established in EES, with Bill Harrison, a Mechanical Engineering Professor, as Director.  Lyle Roberts, a biophysicist, came to Tech as Head of the Neely Nuclear Research Center at this time.

An MS degree in Nuclear Science was first offered in 1958 as an interdisciplinary degree supervised by faculty members in the Schools of Physics, Chemistry and Math.  A set of courses in math, nuclear physics, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering were required of all students, in addition to the core course requirements of each School.  (Miller Templeton and Bill Stacey, both of whom subsequently had long careers at Georgia Tech, were graduates of this program.)

In 1962, the School of Nuclear Engineering was established as an academic unit at Georgia Tech, with Bill Harrison as Director.  A MSNE degree program was established at the same time, followed by approval of the PhD degree in 1964.  The first students in the PhD  program were W. W. Graham, R. J. Johnson, R. N. McDonald and T. T. Robin, all of whom graduated within the following few years.  In 1972, an undergraduate BSNE degree program was established. 

Geoffrey Eichholz (with a background in radiation detection and radioisotope technology), was the first faculty member hired into the new School of Nuclear Engineering in 1963.  Nathan Snyder (reactor heat transfer), the second holder of the Neely Professorship in Nuclear Science, Joe Clement (reactor physics) and Capt. F. W. (Bill) Chambers (health physics) were hired onto the Nuclear Engineering School faculty in 1964.  Lyle Roberts (biophysics) was given a faculty appointment at this time.  “Collaborating faculty” from other Schools and EES were: Don Harmer, Dave Martin and Bill Simpson (Physics), Henry Neumann and Richard Fink (Chemistry), W. Moody (Ceramic Engineering), F. Pohland (Civil Engineering), J. Fleming and N. Engel (Chemical Engineering), Bob Fetner (Biology), L. Gallagher (Computer Center), and D. Hamilton (Oak Ridge National Laboratory lecturer).  The core curriculum included dedicated courses in Physics (Dave Wyly and Dave Martin), Biology (Yeargers and Walls), Chemistry (Henry Neumann and Richard Fink) and Mathematics.

A bit of the flavor of these early days of NE at Georgia Tech is captured in the remarks prepared by Bill Harrison for the NE50 Celebration. 

“It is a tremendous pleasure for me to be able to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the School of Nuclear Engineering.  I look back with gratitude for having been a part of the process.  In particular, I honor Dr. Lyle Roberts and Dr. Geoffrey Eichholz for their roles in building the curriculum and recruiting key people to staff the program.  With completion of the Reactor Building, office facilities and laboratories were provided for most of the staff, in addition to the first-class nuclear teaching and research opportunities offered by the reactor. 

Among innovations used to augment the staff, we were pioneering in off-campus instruction, utilizing a device called the Victor Electrowriter and two telephone lines.  Two eminent scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and one from Savannah River Laboratories were added to the instructional staff as adjunct professors.  They gave regular classroom lectures and projected graphics by telephone, and visited the classes in person each month.  The education program was created quickly, but with quality and breadth.

Inasmuch as the reactor and related facilities were so essential to the School of Nuclear Engineering, I believe it is appropriate to note that the Reactor Project, which included all these facilities, was first proposed by Dr. James Boyd, Director of the campus organization then called the Engineering Experiment Station.  Furthermore, the funding for the project likely would never have been obtained without the untiring efforts of Mr. Frank Neely, Chairman of the Board of Rich’s, Inc. and a Georgia Tech alumnus of the class of 1903.

Clearly, I cannot recognize all who made significant contributions to the School of Nuclear Engineering during the critical years of organizing and building.  I believe it is fair to say that all of us who were involved are entitled to look back with pride.”     

Other notable features of the early years were the mandatory Thursday seminars which brought to campus well-known speakers from industry and the national laboratories, including Edward Teller on two occasions, the formation of student sections of the American Nuclear Society in 1965 and of the Health Physics Society in 1966, and the hosting of one of the first ANS student conferences in 1969.

Bill Harrison left in 1965, and Lyle Roberts succeeded him as School Director; Lynn Edward Weaver succeeded Lyle as School Director in 1972.  During this period the Georgia Tech graduate program in Health Physics was the largest in the USA, and the NE program was also among the largest.   Concentrations within the program included reactor physics, reactor engineering, fuel cycle, nuclear materials, fusion, waste management, environmental, operational health physics and medical physics.  A series of international nuclear energy symposia on environmental impact, cost-benefit analysis, safety and advanced reactors were held, and the proceedings were published by Pergamon Press as the Georgia Institute of Technology Series in Nuclear Engineering. A MSHP degree in health physics was established and the name was changed to the School of Nuclear Engineering and Health Physics (NE&HP) in 1981 to recognize the large health physics component. 

When Lynn Edward Weaver left in 1982 to become Dean of Engineering at Auburn, the School of NE&HP was administered for a year or so by Walter Carlson and subsequently was formally incorporated into the School of Mechanical Engineering as the NE&HP Program in 1985.  John Kallfelz served as Chair in 1985, Bill Stacey was chair 1986-89, Said Abdel-Khalik was Assoc. Director for NE of the Woodruff School in 1990-91 and Farzad Rahnema become Assoc. Director and Chair of NE in 2003.  In 1994 the name of the Program was changed to the Nuclear & Radiological Engineering Program, the undergraduate degree designation was changed to BSNRE, and the MSHP degree was discontinued.  In 2005 a MSMP degree in Medical Physics was established, under a collaborative program with Emory University and other medical facilities in the State. 

The research interests of the early faculty members were in the areas of nuclear engineering, radiation physics and technology and radiological health physics. Scientists with research interests in reactor physics joined the faculty and a cooperative program in medical physics was initiated with Emory during the 1960s.  During the 1970s faculty research interests expanded to include fusion, the nuclear fuel cycle and radiochemistry.  The current faculty (2012) is active in research in reactor physics, transport theory, thermal-hydraulics, nuclear fuel cycle and waste management, fusion plasma physics and technology, nuclear materials, advanced fission and fusion reactor design, nuclear security, radiation shielding, detection and dosimetry,  diagnostics and therapy.  

Many NE alumni and faculty have achieved distinction in their professional careers.  Some representative examples are the following.  Bill Harrison became Dean of the Research Division at VPI and Senior VP of the Southern Co. after leaving NE…  Karl Morgan was founding Director of the Health Physics Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and President of the Health Physics Society before joining NE…  Lou Long was VP for Technical Support of the Southern Co. during the Vogtle and Hatch builds and received the WANO Nuclear Excellence Award in 2007…  John Poston became Director of the Nuclear Engineering Dept. at Texas A&M and President of the Health Physics Society, and won the HPS Robley Evans Commemorative Medal in 2005…  Mel Carter was Director of an EPA laboratory, President of the Health Physics Society and of the International Radiation Protection Association and a member of the National Academy of Engineering…  Jim Lake was Assoc. Laboratory Director for Nuclear Programs at INL, in which position he played a leading role in the revitalization of DOE’s nuclear energy program, and President of the American Nuclear Society…   John Auxier received the HPS Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award…  Fred Schneider spent 24 years in industry and research institutions and designed the Barnwell reprocessing plant before joining NE, and received the AIChE Robert E. Wilson, the US Navy Antarctica and the Cooper Union Gano Dunn Awards...   John Till co-edited the first textbook on radiological risk assessment published by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1983 and a 2nd edition in 2008, received the E. O. Lawrence Award from the Dept. of Energy, and has been selected by the NCRPM to present the 37th Lauriston S. Taylor Lecture in 2013…  Geof Eichholz was awarded the HPS Robley Evans Commemorative Medal in 2004…   Bill Stacey led the IAEA INTOR Workshop (1978-88) which resulted in the international ITER project to build the first experimental fusion power reactor, has published textbooks on reactor physics and fusion, and received the ANS Wigner Reactor Physicist and Seaborg Research Awards and the DOE Distinguished Associate Award…  Greg Komp is currently the Radiation Safety Officer for the Army…  Wei-Li Chen became Director of the Taiwan Dept. of Radiation Protection…  Loong Yong is the President/Founder/Owner of Spectra Tech, inc., one of the 500 largest engineering and design firms in the USA…  Hugh Thompson was the Dep. Executive Director of the NRC for Regulatory Programs until retirement in 1998 and received the NRC Distinguished Service Award, Meritorious Executive Awards from two presidents and the Distinguished Executive Award…  Kyle Turner, a consultant to the nuclear power industry, is principal author of the EPRI New Plant Deployment Program, ESP Siting Guide, ESP Model Program Plan and of the COL Model Program Plan…  Tom Coleman is a VP of AREVA with responsibility for projects in nuclear energy, science and radioactive waste…  Bernd Kahn won the HPS Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award and edited the standard reference book on radiochemistry in 2009… Said Abdel-Khalik served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards for six years, including two years as chair, and received the ASEE Glenn Murphy Award…  Nolan Hertel received the ASEE Glenn Murphy Award and the Faculty of the Year Award of the GIT Graduate Student Government Association….Cynthia Jones serves as the NRC’s Nuclear Safety Attaché at the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, where she provides programmatic and policy oversight of the IAEA safety program on behalf of the USA…  David Farr is Director of WANO-Atlanta Center and VP of the International Division on INPO…  Myuen Kwon was a Division Director for the construction of the KSTAR Tokamak and is now President of the National (S. Korea) Fusion Research Institute and the Korean representative on the ITER Council…  Mickey Wade is Director of the DIII-D National Fusion Program, the major USA tokamak program, and VP of General Atomics... Greg Hanson was named UT-Battelle Inventor of the Year in 2006 and Distinguished Inventor of Batelle in 2009 for his 18 patterns, and is the Senior Project Engineer for the ECH Heating System being designed at ORNL for the ITER Project…  Jeff Favorite received the ANS Mark Mills Award in 1995, the LANL Mentor Distinguished Award in 2005 and the ANS M&C Division Young Member Research Achievement Award in 2007…


Some of the material in this section was adapted, with permission, from W. M. Stacey, From Midway Church to Nuclear Fusion, CreateSpace Publ., Charleston, 2011 and from G. G. Eichholz, Nuclear Engineering and Health Physics at Georgia Tech (1958-1990), Georgia Tech report, 2003.