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Abilene Christian students gain hands on experience with $30 Million research project.

A new facility and research reactor, crucial in the global effort towards clean energy, is coming to the ACU campus.

ABILENE, Texas — The Physics and Engineering Department at Abilene Christian University has its plate full, with two major grants coming in to build Next Lab, a facility housing a molten salt research reactor. The U.S. Department of Energy renewed a nearly $800 thousand dollar grant to ACU. Shortly after that, ACU announced that, in collaboration with a few other major universities such as University of Texas at Austin, a 30-million-dollar grant was given in order to design, build, and house the actual reactor.

Director of Next Lab and ACU Department of Engineering and Physics professor Dr. Rusty Towell said they are looking to find a clean, safe, and inexpensive energy, as well as providing clean water to the world and researching medical isotopes to cure cancer. He said they want to bless the world while giving students real world experience. 

While the goal is to have the new facility and reactor running in the next five years, students today are getting to work on this major project. Dr. Towell said this is an inter-disciplinary project because they are using students that are physics, engineering, computer science, computer graphic, and accounting majors. Each of these students, he said, now have experience working in a career like setting, which will give them an edge in the job market.

This summer ACU had approximately 30 students and 20 faculty working solely on this project. Together, they accrued over 10 thousand hours. This work counted as an internship for the students and they received a payed stipend. Fortunately, the pandemic did not hinder their progress since the student workers could spread out to different classrooms because no summer classes were on campus. Dr. Towell hopes to bring more students onto the project with classes starting.

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