Morasca receives scholarship to continue PRA research

4/19/2022 Phillip Kisubika

Written by Phillip Kisubika

Morasca receives scholarship to continue PRA research

One of the advantages for students when they begin at NPRE is the ability to get an early start working on research. Madeline Morasca has taken that to heart and, in doing so, she has earned the American Nuclear Society’s Joseph Naser Undergraduate Scholarship.

The Naser Scholarship has been designated for students pursuing undergraduate studies in nuclear engineering with a focus in the field of human factors, instrumentation and controls. An applicant for this scholarship must be a full–time undergraduate student at a North American university interested in technical aspects of human factors, instrumentation and/or controls. The focus of the scholarship is on the technical disciplines involved in Nuclear Plant Instrumentation, Controls, and Human–Machine Interface Technologies in the context of nuclear power or other nuclear engineering specific applications.

Morasca, a sophomore from Barrington, Ill., originally came to University of Illinois wanting to study under NPRE’s radiological track. She then learned about associate professor Zahra Mohaghegh’s Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Laboratory and emailed Mohaghegh in October of her freshman year. “I was really interested in the work they were doing, so my interests lined up more with the Power track. I’ve been working in (Mohaghegh’s) group for the past two years,” she said.

Morasca said she’s very interested in modeling human error and its integration into the risk assessment of nuclear power plants, something she feels is starting to be more prevalent in the department after taking NPRE 461 (Probabilistic Risk Assessment) and now NPRE 561 (Advanced Risk Analysis for Technological Systems).

In the SoTeRiA Laboratory, she is conducting research on the incorporation of organizational factors into Human Reliability Analysis (HRA) and Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) of nuclear power plants. Organizational and managerial factors have been identified as key contributors to the world’s most devastating accidents. Her research advances prevention strategies by identifying critical organizational factors based on their contribution to human error and nuclear system risk.

“This scholarship is a great honor and a motivator for me to keep researching these topics within the SoTeRiA group,” Morasca said. “Hopefully, it will propel me to learn more about HRA and PRA of nuclear power plants.”

Morasca, an active member of the U of I’s chapter of Women in Nuclear, said she wants to experience more in the classroom and industry before deciding what to do after graduation, adding that PRA study is gaining traction in nuclear safety research and development.

“Madeline’s research is uniquely at the intersection of multiple disciplines including nuclear engineering, risk analysis, and social science," Mohaghegh said. "I am proud of her and confident that she will continue to make great contributions to risk analysis and nuclear safety and to advancing women in nuclear engineering.”

In college, the thing Morasca has enjoyed most is getting the chance to be a part of impactful research as a freshman and sophomore. “I think the opportunity the department gives (undergraduate students) to not only collaborate with grad students but also to initiate our own research has been really rewarding,” she said.

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This story was published April 19, 2022.