Reactor physicist Katy Huff joins NPRE faculty
World-class computational facilities and the strategic hiring of several other young faculty by Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering drew computational nuclear reactor physicist Katy Huff to begin her academic career at Illinois.
“The computational research here with (the National Center for Supercomputing Applications) is a really good complement to the nuclear department,” said Huff, who also will have access to the Blue Waters computing facility.
“And NPRE has attracted so many young and vibrant faculty,” she continued. “That really bodes well for the future and gives me the confidence that the department is going to be strong for quite a while.
“The university here is world-class, and the College of Engineering (at Illinois) is really top-notch,” she added. Her husband, Matthew Strom Borman, also will join the Illinois faculty as an assistant professor in the Mathematics Department.
Huff most recently has been working as a postdoctoral scholar and data science fellow in the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium and Berkeley Institute for Data Science at the University of California-Berkeley. Her focus has been on the scientific pursuit of a safe, emissions-free, sustainable, high-output energy source. Particularly, she is interested in the promise of a closed nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear repository performance, and investigations of safety.
Huff’s education began in Bellville, Texas, and continued at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science program. She spent the summers of 2003 and 2004 at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working with the LANSCE-NS project, in which high-energy neutrons and protons are used for basic and applied research in neutron nuclear science.
After earning her undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Chicago, Huff went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to earn her PhD. She worked with Prof. Paul Wilson to create the Cyclus project, a next-generation agent-based fuel cycle simulator that provides flexibility to users and developers through a dynamic resource exchange solver and plug-in, user-developed agent framework. She also worked at Argonne National Laboratory to develop Cyder, a nuclear waste repository model.
In NPRE, Huff plans to work on research questions across a range of challenges including nuclear fuel cycle technology strategy, energy policy, repository safety, and reactor physics. Her research will involve modeling and simulating both the nuclear fuel cycle and advanced reactor designs. Andrei Rykhlevskii, a new NPRE graduate student, and postdoctoral research associate Alex Lindsay, most recently from North Carolina State University, will join Huff in her research on advanced reactor physics simulation.
Additionally, Huff and her colleague, Anthony Scopatz, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, will split a three-year, $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program that will bring machine learning improvements to fuel cycle system analysis. The objective, Huff said, “is to predictively manage simulation of future deployment of reactor and fuel cycle technologies.”
Huff also will be teaching in Fall 2016, and has goals for revamping NPRE 412 Nuclear Power Economics and Fuel Management. “I want to put my own stamp on the course,” she said. “I want to be sure to engage undergrads who are interested in computing.”
Huff would like to help with the American Nuclear Society Student Chapter at Illinois as well. She was active in the student society at Wisconsin, and currently chairs the national organization’s Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division. “Supporting the ANS students is really an important responsibility,” she maintains.