NPRE Graduate Student Spotlight: Moutaz Elias


James Sopkin

NPRE Graduate Student Spotlight: Moutaz Elias

One way NPRE is celebrating Graduate Student Appreciation Week this week is by highlighting the work of some of our graduate students. Moutaz Elias is a plasma/fusion student of Prof. Davide Curreli.

What previous degrees do you hold and when and where did you receive them?
Before joining UIUC, I earned a bachelor’s of science in nuclear science and engineering from the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in May 2016, part of the first batch of nuclear engineering bachelor graduates from the UAE. Since then I earned a master’s of science (2018) from NPRE at Illinois.

Moutaz Elias with his advisor, Davide Curreli
Moutaz Elias with his advisor, Davide Curreli

What are your research interests?
I am interested in helping progress fusion research. Specifically, I work on developing simulation tools and using them to test solutions for the problems facing fusion. We are inching closer towards fusion energy production and once that happens, once fusion technology becomes a proven technology, development from there towards cheaper commercial fusion reactors will go at a much more rapid pace. The promise of fusion energy is worth the devotion to it as it can be a catalyst and a much needed tool not just for solving our energy demand but improving lives globally. With cheap clean energy we can decrease our carbon footprint significantly combating climate change, and we can make large projects that had been economically unreasonable within reach, like irrigation of deserts to create agricultural fields.

Who is your advisor?
I am currently working with Prof. Davide Curreli. Professor Curreli has been one of the things that kept me sane during the Ph.D. He is a great mentor objectively and personally a great fit for me as a mentor-mentee relationship.

On what project are you currently working?
I am currently working on solving the problems that come with using Radio-frequency waves to heat the plasma in a fusion reactor. Radio-frequency waves are needed to heat the plasma to high enough temperatures to allow net energy output. At the same time, using them leads to significant erosions and plasma contamination. Most of these problems associated with Radiofrequency waves can be mitigated if we find an optimal operation parameters. Experimentally testing the operation parameters is expensive so our group is developing simulation tools that can simulate such physical scenarios. We are past the beta version of the codes and into the validation with experimental data as a last checkpoint before we can find a suitable operation mode.

What funding/fellowship is supporting you?
I am supported by two fellowships, the Nguyen Thi Cuong Fellowship (in NPRE) and the (Felix) Adler Fellowship (in NPRE); and I am currently a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow. I am also funded by a teaching assistantship. I was previously on research assistantships funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

When do you expect to earn your PhD?
The plan is to graduate with a PhD by May 2021, right before the time I turn 26.

What are your career goals?
I plan on eventually transitioning into a faculty position, maybe directly after graduation or after a short stint in industry. I am a firm believer in the impact that a professor can have on students’ lives, mostly due to first-hand experience on the impact an inspiring professor can have on his students.

Why did you choose NPRE?
For my bachelor’s, it was a sort of a lucky draw. I entered nuclear mostly because the bachelor’s brochure at the University of Sharjah had “new” next to nuclear engineering, but throughout my bachelor’s I had grown more and more interested in how influential nuclear engineering can be in meeting our energy demands. By the time I graduated from the bachelor’s degree I knew nuclear was the field for me so I stuck with it. If I go back in time I don’t think I would have changed my decision.

Why did you choose Illinois?
Well Go big or Go home! Mostly, the cutting edge research that is been done here at UIUC and the student to faculty ratio along with the department having plenty of young active new professors compared with other departments gave me the feeling that I would find projects and people I would be interested in working on, and a workplace that has the time and desire to be supportive. I have not been disappointed: the department has gone above and beyond in providing an environment that makes me feel like I am not wasting my time here and I am particularly proud of the research work I have done here so far.