iPad: Nuclear fission at your fingertips

Researchers at the University of Utah are using their Apple i-gadgetry to monitor the performance of a nuclear reactor. Yes, there's an app for that.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

The fuel rods of a nuclear reactor are now shining blue and red on the screens of iPads, iPhones and iPods.

Researchers and students in the University of Utah's Nuclear Engineering Program are using simulation software via their iPhones to monitor the school's small nuclear reactor. While the programs "i-simulation" is currently a teaching tool, the software may have broader applications. For instance, communicating with commercial power plants about fuel use in real time.

Shanjie Xiao, a postdoctoral fellow in nuclear engineering, says in a statement:

“We obtain information about the reactor core, such as the level of power being produced. We also can understand the distribution of reaction rates across the core, which gives us information about fuel use at any instant in time.”

Originally developed by the University's Scientific Imaging and Computing Institute for CAT scans and MRIs, the app ImageVis3D Mobile is free at the Apple store. The nuclear simulation data isn't.

The researchers designed the interface between the app and their software AGENT (Arbitrary Geometry Neutron Transport) to display their reactor TRIGA. This software combo can display the data of any nuclear reactor, but is not commercially available.

TRIGA (Training, Research, Isotopes and General Atomics) runs on uranium-235 and uranium-238 fuel. Collisions between the uranium and the neutrons result in fission reactions. The simulation software tracks the movement of the neurons, displaying fission rates and the density of the neutrons over space and time.

Tatjana Jevremovic, the director of the program, hopes the imagery, which illustrates large amounts of data, will help train the next generation of nuclear engineers. The color red indicates where the intensity of the nuclear fission reactions is the greatest. This should be somewhere toward the middle.

Now students, if you ever see all of the rods glowing red, drop your iPads and run.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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