Assistant Professor Zahra Mohaghegh of the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering (NPRE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), is a recipient of the university’s 2016 Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising. This award is in recognition of the important role that advisors play in the academic planning process of engineering students on campus and is given to the top 10 percent of engineering advisors.Mohaghegh is also a recipient of a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for Big Data Analytics in Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA), the 2015 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research from the College of Engineering, the George Apostolakis early-career award in risk assessment, and the Zonta International Award for her contribution to modeling large-scale complex systems.
Mohaghegh is the director of the Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Laboratory (http://soteria.npre.illinois.edu/) at UIUC. She and her research team are advancing Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) for nuclear power plants and other high-consequence industries by pioneering two key areas of scientific innovation: (1) spatio-temporal causal modeling of social and physical failure mechanisms in PRA, and (2) the fusion of Big Data Analytics with PRA. The SoTeRiA Laboratory’s ongoing research projects for the nuclear power industry include: Fire PRA; Location-specific Loss-Of-Coolant Accident (LOCA) Frequency Estimations; Risk-Informed Resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191; Human and Organizational Influences on System Risk; Risk-Informed Regulation; and Risk-Informed Emergency Preparedness, Planning, and Response.
Since joining NPRE in 2013, Mohaghegh has been offering new undergraduate and graduate courses in risk and reliability. She has created educational and professional paths for UIUC students interested in PRA, a technical discipline with a wide range of applications. PRA is now one of the key pillars of the Risk-Informed regulatory framework for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). A growing number of other U.S. government agencies – the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have begun to use PRA for decision making and policy setting.
Mohaghegh’s advising style has generated a real-world learning experience for students, giving them the opportunity to interface with industry. Over the past three years, she and her research team have been actively involved in the risk-informed resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191, a long-standing issue for commercial nuclear power plants and the NRC. In 2015, the SoTeRiA Laboratory team developed and presented the U.S.-China Probabilistic Safety Assessment Workshop on ‘Risk-Informed Regulation and Safety Culture’ in Shenzhen, China, as part of the Department of Energy’s Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology (PUNT) program, which included 72 nuclear industry experts from 28 companies in China.
Mohaghegh believes that integrating physical and social root causes of failure into a cohesive modeling framework is the future of risk analysis; therefore, she implements a multidisciplinary approach toward research and education. In addition to her appointment in NPRE, and as an advisor of students from both engineering and social science, Mohaghegh has received affiliations from UIUC’s Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE), the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Information Science, and the Institute of Informatics.
Together, the SoTeRiA Laboratory team is creating a transdisciplinary platform and furthering the risk analysis technology and education that will contribute to a safer, more sustainable, and peaceful world.