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Mark Pierson

Associate Professor, Nuclear Engineering Program, Mechanical Engineering




Nano-nuclear applications: Conducting neutron irradiation of carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets at the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Pre- and post-irradiation examination (PIE) using Raman spectroscopy, TEM imaging, and four-point probe electrical resistance measurements will characterize the type of damage and resilience to damage.  Research may lead to new radiation detection sensors or reactor pressure vessel radiation dose sensors.  Further investigations are starting in nano-fission materials and nano-nuclear batteries.

Nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear medical isotope production:

  • Developing an improved uranium milling process that will also remove the radium from the mining tailings to minimize the radioactivity and radiation monitoring of subsequent uranium tailing impoundment cells at uranium mining and milling sites. Development of a radium interim storage facility.  Elimination of radium through photodisintegration to form an Ac-225/Bi-213 targeted alpha therapy isotope production method for medical cancer therapy.
  • Developing an alternative back end fuel cycle to minimize long-term radioactive waste disposal through the use of accelerator-driven subcritical systems that produce electricity from used nuclear LWR fuel and transmute long-lived actinides.
  • Reprocessing of used MOX fuel from LWRs

Reactor physics:

  • Neutron source strength calculations, burnup calculations, and neutron spallation target design for accelerator-driven subcritical systems with a specific goal of further development of the Virginia Tech GEM*STAR (Green Energy Multiplier * Subcritical, Thermal-spectrum, Accelerator-driven, recycling Reactor) project.
  • Development of a full-core nonsymmetrical reactor kinetics code and reactor control strategies

Fusion Demonstration Reactor: Undergraduate research project that uses inertial electrostatic confinement deuterium-deuterium fusion to create a star-like plasma and generate neutrons for activation experiments.  Used for research and educational outreach.

Nuclear Power Plant Operations and Safety: Development of lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor accident that can be applied to U.S. nuclear power plants from both a design and operator procedures perspective.

Doctoral Research/Research Assistant Experience:  Department of Mathematics, Interdisciplinary Center for 
Applied Mathematics, Virginia Tech, 2002 – 2005
Joint research advisors: Dr. Terry L. Herdman and Dr. Eugene M. Cliff

  • Theoretical analysis of abstract differential-algebraic systems and partial differential-algebraic systems
  • Analysis of differential-algebraic equations for structural dynamics of coupled beams associated with large space
    array systems


Teaching Activities Fall 2012

NSEG 3604 Radiation Detection, Protection and Shielding         Tues/Thurs 3:30 - 4:45 PM, WLH 335

Radioactive decay, interaction of charged particles and photons with matter, methods of radiation detection and radiation dosimetry, counting statistics, radiation protection criteria and exposure limits, external radiation protection using time, distance and shielding.  Pre: Phys 2306. Co: Math 2214

NSEG 4994 Undergraduate Research    TBD

Research on the demonstration fusion reactor.  Instructor permission required.

NSEG 5114 Nuclear Engineering Fundamentals     MW 2:30 - 3:45 (on-campus only) and online (off-campus only)

A foundation course in nuclear engineering. Neutron physics, reactor theory and kinetics, basic reactor design and operation, and overall power plant operation.  Pre: Graduate standing

NSEG 5214 Nuclear Power Plant Systems and Operations    online (off-campus only)

Pressurized and boiling water reactors, detailed system functions and operation, reactor plant startup and shutdown procedures, reactor trip and casualty procedures, reactor transient response analysis, reactor plant licensing, ethics and integrity in the nuclear industry.
Pre: NSEG 5114

NSEG 5604 Radiation Detection and Shielding     Tues/Thurs 5:00 - 6:15 PM  on-campus/off-campus (CENTRA)

Radioactive decay, radiation sources and interactions, counting statistics, properties of radiation detectors, photon and neutron response functions, external radiation protection using time, distance and shielding. Pre: Graduate standing



08/09 – presentAssociate Professor (untenured), Nuclear Engineering Program,
Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech
01/07 – 8/09Research Associate Professor, Nuclear Engineering Program, 
Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech
09/05 – 09/07Joint Unmanned Systems Research Project Manager, 
Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech
06/05 – 09/05Deep Underground Science & Engineering Lab Project Manager, Research Division, Virginia Tech

Related non-academic experience:

Served 23 years in the U.S. Navy retiring at the rank of Commander. Positions included:

1998 – 2001Deputy Department Head of the Engineering, Materials and Physical Sciences Department and, Program Officer for Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine Security, Office of Naval Research
1994 – 1997Submarine Maintenance Program Officer, for the Director of Submarine Warfare, Chief of Naval Operations staff, Pentagon
1992 – 1994Executive Officer, Second-in-Command,
USS Indianapolis, SSN 697 (nuclear submarine)
1989 – 1990Staff Engineer, for the Director of Naval Reactors, a joint DOD/DOE organization, founded by Admiral Rickover, provided input for the operation and maintenance of all S5W naval nuclear reactors and shipboard radiological controls
1986 – 1988Chief Engineer, Head of the Engineering Department, 
USS Henry L. Stimson SSBN 655 (Gold), responsible for operation of the nuclear reactor and qualification of all operators.
1983 – 1986Radiological Controls Officer, USS Canopus, AS 34, responsible for establishing and implementing all radiological precautions for nuclear maintenance on a squadron of submarines
1980 – 1983Electrical Officer, Reactor Controls Assistant, Assistant Engineer,
USS Simon Bolivar SSBN 641 (Gold)



Virginia Tech College of Engineering W.S. “Pete” White Innovation in Engineering Education Award, April 2012

Virginia Tech College of Engineering Certificate of Teaching Excellence, May 2011

Virginia Tech College of Engineering Sporn Award for Excellence in Engineering Instruction by the Student Engineer’s Council, April 2011

Virginia Tech College of Engineering Award for Outreach Excellence, May 2008

Phi Kappa Phi, All-disciplines Honor Society, 2004

Pi Mu Epsilon, Mathematics Honor Society, 2003

Beta Gamma Sigma, Business and Management Honor Society, 1992

    Mark Pierson