Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Q&A: Danielle Castley, PhD Innovation Fellow

PhD Innovation Program candidate Danielle Castley
Photograph by Kathryn Lapierre.

Engineering PhD Innovation Program candidate Danielle Castley, who won the American University of Sharjah New Venture Challenge award for her work in radiation-shielding materials, talks about why she came to Thayer and her research in nuclear energy.

"I want to adjust the public perception of the nuclear industry."
— Danielle Castley,
PhD Innovation Fellow

What attracted you to engineering at Dartmouth?

I like the idea of having the opportunity to develop a strategy for commercializing my technology as a student. I am not just writing a thesis that will sit on a shelf; I’m doing work that will advance industry. The PhD Innovation Program has allowed me to do that. It’s also given me the opportunity to take classes in corporate finance, learn about IP rights and protecting my intellectual property, and develop the strategy for commercializing my material. Seeing what works and what doesn’t work and having the opportunity to bounce ideas off Dr. Eric Fossum and other professors about the best way to go about developing the product and technology has been key.

Why did you decide to work in the nuclear energy field?

I’m concerned about the environment and global warming. Nuclear power has the lowest life cycle carbon emissions of any energy production method besides wind. It’s scalable and reliable, and I want to create materials to improve safety as well as adjust public perception of the nuclear industry. 

Can you tell us more about your research?

My goal is to develop a neutron shielding material that’s lightweight enough to transport in nuclear fuel casks, but can also operate at higher temperatures than existing polymer-based materials. It needs to retain certain thermal properties—such as thermal expansion and the coefficient of thermal conductivity—but also handle the high burn-up fuel heat loads that the U.S. Department of Energy wants nuclear power plants to comply with. With a higher temperature neutron shielding material, we can increase the lifetime of reactor components, improve the safety of managing spent nuclear fuel, and improve the efficiency and safety of the reactor overall.

What’s next for you?

What’s next, I hope, is finishing my thesis and testing the manufacturing process on a larger scale so that we can prepare to see the material deployed in the nuclear industry or even in aerospace engineering, where neutron shielding is also a concern.

—Interview by Kathryn Lapierre

Categories: The Great Hall, Q&A

Tags: award, entrepreneurship, innovation, research, students

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