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Vandal Seeks a Powerful Master’s Degree

U of I grad Jeremiah Seth Dustin pursues a nuclear engineering master’s degree with an eye toward reactor safety

Jeremiah Seth Dustin didn’t consider the full power of nuclear engineering until the end of his second bachelor’s degree.

In Dustin’s senior chemical engineering seminar class, Vivek Utgikar, associate dean for research and economic development in the University of Idaho’s College of Engineering, gave a presentation about nuclear reactor technology.

“He talked about how we could essentially power humanity’s future with nuclear energy. We could support our species until the sun burns out, and that sounded pretty incredible,” Dustin said.

Dustin earned his first bachelor’s degree in psychology from U of I’s Moscow campus in 2010, and took a job working with foster children in Spokane, Washington. But he found the emotional toll was too high.

“I realized it was not going to get any easier,” he said. “I got too emotionally invested.”

Dustin decided to return to U of I for a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. Dustin’s father and a few brothers are engineers, so it was always on his periphery as a career choice. Now he’s working toward his master’s degree in nuclear engineering at U of I’s Idaho Falls center. His belief in nuclear energy ties into his background as a social worker.

“I think there is a lot of social stratification and injustice that could be mitigated by equitable access to energy, so if there’s an energy source that we know can do that, we should pursue it,” he said.

Dustin isn’t new to the Idaho Falls community: His family moved to the area when he was 9, so returning to the area to finish his education was a good fit.

Part of his work at U of I Idaho Falls included working on a grant writing team with researchers from U of I and University of Michigan.

“The grant was written to study accidents in a new reactor design and ways to minimize these accidents,” he said. “We ended up getting the grant, that was unbelievable.”

His advisor, Bob Borrelli, helped Dustin receive a fellowship with Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, starting in June.

“It was a pretty big deal to get that,” he said. “Having this much access to all these people and resources has made it possible to get these great opportunities.”

Dustin, who will graduate in fall 2018, works closely with researchers at the Idaho National Lab on a daily basis. He received an internship to work in the pyroprocessing department last summer, where he helped with the process of dissolving metals and ceramics in molten salt.

“I was looking at rare Earth elements, which are really important for modern electronics, and how they behave in molten salt,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons I came to Idaho Falls was to do pyroprocessing.”

Dustin said having industry professionals around him encourages him to work harder.

“I can’t imagine having a graduate experience where you don’t get access to those people,” he said. “I’d be missing out on so much if I didn’t get to interact with INL researchers. It’s one thing to have professors tell you something, but to have someone who actually does the work say it, it’s more serious.”

Dustin is also involved in the Vandal Ideas Project, an internal grant program at U of I that’s focused on increasing the number of students who go to college in Idaho. As a member of the student-designed project, “Increasing the Go-On Rate in Southeast Idaho Through the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water,” Dustin is working to recruit interested high school students and establish a mentorship program in Eastern Idaho high schools for senior projects.

Article by Tess Fox, University Communications & Marketing.

Published in the June 2018 issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.


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