Alumnus Blair Bromley chosen for NPRE 2019 Advocate Award


Susan Mumm

Alumnus Blair Bromley chosen for NPRE 2019 Advocate Award

NPRE alumnus Dr. Blair P. Bromley, a reactor physicist at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), is the 2019 winner of the NPRE Advocate Award.

Bromley, MS 98 Aerospace Engineering, PhD 01 NPRE, has been cited “for advancing NPRE's missions through his many years of excellent counsel, commitment to the NPRE Constituent Alumni and Industry Advisory Board, and generous philanthropy on behalf of NPRE students.” Bromley will be presented the award at the NPRE/ANS Student Chapter Honors Banquet to be held Thursday, April 18, 2019.

Bromley’s interaction with and service to NPRE has never lapsed; he became of member of the Department’s alumni board upon earning his degree. The advice he has provided for NPRE’s programs and initiatives has been constant throughout the years, and has been greatly valued. He also has been constant in his financial support of endowed funds named for many of NPRE’s founding professors and used to benefit student scholarship. Bromley and his wife, Jennifer, an Illinois alumnae (MA 97 Teaching of English as a Second Language, MA 00 Linguistics) also have been generous in supporting the NPRE Visionary Scholarship Program. Through the end of 2019, the Grainger Foundation matches gifts to NPRE Visionary Scholarships.

Bromley has worked at CNL (formerly Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) – Chalk River Laboratories) Canada, since 2003, and for two years prior to that was a postdoctoral research associate in nuclear engineering in the Department of Energy Science and Technology at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

The NPRE Advocate Award recognizes alumni and friends who have demonstrated their loyalty to NPRE through volunteer efforts, financial contributions, and/or other forms of advocacy.

Thoughts from Blair

Of the achievements throughout your career, please elaborate on the ones that have given you the most satisfaction and why?

As a graduate student at the University of Illinois in both AAE (M.Sc.) and NPRE (PhD), the achievements that gave me the greatest satisfaction were those where I served as a teaching assistant for several undergraduate and graduate courses in both AAE and NPRE. Serving as a teaching assistant gave me the opportunity to learn subject material to a more in-depth level, and also to help assist and train the next generation of engineers.

Post-graduation, I had the opportunity to work as post-doc/research associate in nuclear engineering in the Department of Energy Science and Technology at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) from 2001 to 2003. There, I contributed to independent reactor safety analysis work for the USNRC, and also to investigating advanced thorium-based fuels for PWRs. BNL was an excellent place to work, and I have fond memories of many of the staff there.

From 2003 up until the present (2019), I have been working as a Reactor Physicist at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL, formerly Atomic Energy of Canada – Chalk River Laboratories). I have worked on many different and interesting projects over the last 16 years, but perhaps the one that has given me the most satisfaction was a recent 3-year project (2015-2018) on the topic of science and technology development to enable the use of advanced fuels in pressure tube heavy water reactors (PT-HWRs). During this project, I served as Project Manager and Principal Investigator, providing supervision and oversight to more than 50 scientific staff over a 3-year period. As a result of our efforts, our multi-disciplinary team carried out numerous computational/analytical studies and performed many new experiments that helped obtain useful data and to identify new and better options for using advanced nuclear fuels (thorium-based fuels in particular) and fuel cycles for PT-HWRs. As a consequence, our diverse team of research scientists, engineers, and technical support staff published several dozen internal research reports, conference papers and journal papers, and we achieved all of our project deliverables on budget, and on schedule.

What have been the most useful lessons you have taken from your time as an NPRE student, and who helped you to learn them?

There are many useful lessons that I learned from many people when I was a graduate student in NPRE, but there are a number of key ones.

  • Emeritus Prof. Roy Axford: Most subjects can be learned and mastered, if one is willing to be methodical, and to spend the time and effort required to go through material step-by-step. If one has not solved a problem, it is okay, as long as you continue to think about it.
  • Emeritus Prof. George Miley: To be open minded about unconventional ideas. Technical marketing and salesmanship are important skills to develop and exercise. Convincing technical writing requires a positive tone, describing what can be done, and what has been learned.
  • The late Emeritus Prof. Barclay Jones: To truly master a subject, one must develop an intuitive physical understanding.
  • Prof. David Ruzic: To engage the public and the masses, one must be prepared to simplify complex ideas and explain such ideas in terms that can be understood by non-scientists.
  • (NPRE alumnus and co-NPRE 2019 Advocate Award winner) Brian Jurczyk: Engineers are smart, and can figure things out, even without having prior knowledge. Do not accept or believe in the “No-Win Scenario”.
  • (NPRE alumnus) Robert Stubbers: Fear of failure can actually be a positive, powerful ally, if it motivates you to be more creative, innovative and to work harder.

What have been the most useful lessons you have learned during your career?

  • One must have patience and persistence to achieve one’s goals, especially when faced with adversity.
  • Tolerance and diplomacy are always required in the workplace.
  • If you want something, you need to be assertive and ask for it.
  • The Golden Rule applies.

Who have been your inspirations, particularly in NPRE?

  • My wife, Jennifer Lai Bromley (M.A., DEIL, 1997, M.A. Linguistics, 1999).

Within NPRE, many professors and support staff (past and present), and fellow graduate students have been inspirational, through their teaching, supervisory, professional and volunteer activities. A number of individuals in NPRE who come to mind including the following:

  • Emeritus Prof. Roy Axford (my doctoral advisor)
  • Emeritus Prof. George Miley (my master’s advisor)
  • The Late Emeritus Prof. Barclay Jones (former NPRE Department Chair)
  • Prof. Rizwan Uddin (current NPRE Department Chair)
  • Prof. Jim Stubbins (former NPRE Department Chair)
  • The Late Emeritus Prof. Daniel Hang (a big supporter of the ANS)
  • Prof. Magdi Ragheb (whom I served as a teaching assistant)
  • Prof. David Ruzic (whom I served as a teaching assistant)
  • Celia Elliott (former administrative assistant for Prof. Miley)
  • Caroline Killingsworth (former NPRE support staff)
  • Becky Meline (NPRE support staff)
  • Robert Stubbers (fellow graduate student)
  • Bryan Jurczyk (fellow graduate student)
  • John Demora (fellow graduate student)
  • Luis Chacon de la Rosa (fellow graduate student)
  • Yibin Gu (fellow graduate student)
  • Jalal (Jay) Javedani (former NPRE post-doc / research staff)
  • Mike Williams (former NPRE technical support staff member)
  • Susan Mumm (current NPRE staff)

In addition to NPRE staff, there were several individuals in the Aerospace Engineering Department (AAE) who were also inspirational, including:

  • Emeritus Prof. Wayne Solomon (former AAE Department Chair, and my master’s advisor)
  • Emeritus Prof. Rodney Burton (whom I served as a teaching assistant)
  • Emeritus Prof. Shee-Mang Yen (former AAE professor)
  • Prof. Robert Beddini (former AAE professor)
  • Nicholas Tiliakos (fellow graduate student)
  • Joshua Hopkins (AAE undergraduate student, fellow Illini Space Development Society (ISDS) member)
  • Jeff Norr (AAE undergraduate student, fellow Illini Space Development Society (ISDS) member)
  • Scott McLaren (Physics Department, fellow Illini Space Development Society (ISDS) member)
  • Susan Del Medico (former AAE graduate student)

What advice can you offer current students?

  • Work hard, but get plenty of rest, and give yourself time for exercise.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand.
  • Take as many different courses in nuclear engineering as you can (do not just do the bare minimum required).
  • Having excellent oral and written communication skills will be very important in your career as a professional. Learn to read and write well.
  • If you are an undergraduate, do a number of co-op terms outside of academia to gain work experience before you graduate. It will help build your resume/CV, and it will also help you to better understand what your strengths are, and what you enjoy doing.
  • If you are a graduate student, take the opportunity to work outside of academia during your time in graduate school by working at National Laboratories, or private sector companies.
  • Diversify your educational, academic and work experience.
  • Be a pro-active (not passive) professional. Become a member and participate in professional societies associated with nuclear science and technology, such as the American Nuclear Society (ANS), and others.
  • Public engagement and education is a social responsibility and an obligation of all nuclear professionals. Volunteer your time to help educate the public.
  • Never take things for granted. Recognize and appreciate your benefits.
  • Be assertive, but mindful and respectful. If you want or need something, you need to ask for it.

Do you have any comments on or predictions for the future of your industry?

The long-term future for nuclear science and technology and the use of nuclear energy are both good.

It is recognized that there have been several “speed bumps” along the way for the Nuclear Renaissance, causing delays and slowdowns, but ultimately, the wider spread use of Nuclear Energy in the international community and the implementation and deployment of various advanced nuclear technologies, along with technologies for recycling fuel and destroying radioactive wastes, will prevail and grow.

The world needs more clean energy to ensure a high standard of living and quality of life, and nuclear is the best option in the “All of the Above” approach.

As the current nuclear industry continues to “climb the learning curve”, evolutionary improvements in operations, standardization, management of large projects, and procurement will bring down the costs of nuclear energy.

Currently, nuclear energy is not on a “level playing field” with other energy technologies. Those who work in the nuclear sector will need to advocate and lobby for government policy changes to change this situation.

A more rational and logical pricing scheme that gives proper credit for clean, reliable, resilient, and robust energy resources will favor the use of nuclear energy.

Cost vs. benefit analyses applied to the nuclear regulation and environmental assessments will help streamline processes and procedures, to ensure that only what is necessary will be done. This approach will further help reduce the costs of nuclear energy and make it more competitive in the long-run.

In accepting the NPRE Advocate Award, Blair talks about doing good for the good of many, and nuclear engineering as a noble profession.