With national conference on horizon, ANS chapter makes final preparations


Phillip Kisubika

With national conference on horizon, ANS chapter makes final preparations

This year’s American Nuclear Society Student Conference is about a month away from descending on the University of Illinois campus. It’s an event literally years in the making, and the conference’s student organizers are working hard to make the first in-person ANS conference in three years a success.

“I’m really excited to see it through,” said Jeremy Mettler, the conference’s Technical Program Co-chair. “It’s been a long time coming with lots of bumps in the road that have been totally out of our control. There’s a lot riding on this conference. We know that, and we’re really excited for it because it’s going to be a great opportunity to re-establish the tradition of bringing all these students from across the country together. It’s an important part of keeping the national community together, and it’s been missing for several years.”

Around 500 students and professionals are expected to attend the conference, set for April 14-16. “I think we’re going to see a fair number of universities represented,” Amanda Bachmann, the conference’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Co-Chair and Sponsorship Chair, said, noting that students will be coming from all over the country and even from Puerto Rico. “It’s going to be a really good opportunity for students to network with people from a lot of aspects of nuclear energy.”

The first day of the conference will be made up of workshops and tours. Among the various workshops, attendees will also be able learn resume and interview skills and the kinds of things undergraduates need to know before applying to graduate school. “It’s like a ‘Grad School 101,’” Bachmann said. “It’s about what should you be thinking about when picking a program, going through application and funding processes…I attended this workshop as an undergrad, and it was wonderful.”

Students will be able to tour local facilities such as Talbot Laboratory and Starfire Industries in Research Park and participate in a workshop at HIDRA. Tours will also be available at Dresden Nuclear Generating Station and Argonne Laboratory.

“Being able to offer an experiment with HIDRA is not something a lot of schools can offer,” Mettler said. “Not every school is close to a national lab like Argonne.”

“It’s half the reason you host a conference, to show off your department,” Bachmann said of the opportunities that will be presented at U of I. “It’ll really give a sense of what it’s like to be in the department at Illinois.”

In that vein, attendees will also be able to take part in a dinner on the court of the State Farm Center and a social event in a luxury box at Memorial Stadium.

The other two days of the conference will be the Technical Program, filled with student presentations and panels covering will be on tracks corresponding to the different divisions of ANS. Some attendees will be giving talks with time for questions, while most will be presenting posters about their research.

According to General Co-Chair Sam Dotson, the technical portion of the student conference will feature a Nuclear Technology and Society track and panel for the first time. This track will be “a way for students and professionals to talk about the social aspects of nuclear science,” Dotson said, noting the importance of everyone associated with nuclear being able to talk about its complex legacy in popular culture.

Overall, though there will be nuclear experts from all over the country giving speeches and leading panels, this is and has been a student-led operation. The members of Illinois’ ANS student chapter have been working diligently over the last three years to adapt to and conquer challenges to put on this conference.

“It’s been a lingering source of stress,” Dotson said. “It’s always been exciting and something we wanted to do. We’re happy to do it and glad that the pandemic is in such a way that we can host it in person, but there will be a sense of relief when it’s over.”

“We are really excited,” Bachmann said. “We put in a lot of work, and it’ll be great to see all our hard work come to fruition. But we are also exhausted. It’s been a really rewarding experience.”