Nuclear program expands, welcomes new director, renovates reactor

Published: July 14th, 2014

Category: News, Student News


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida’s Nuclear Engineering Program has undergone substantial growth over the past few years, and is planning for more. This month, James Baciak became the new director of the program, and by the end of the year, the training reactor will be “essentially brand new” after extensive renovations.

UF is among just a few academic institutions with a research nuclear reactor. The University of Florida Training Reactor is undergoing a major renovation under the leadership of R & D 100 winner Kelly Jordan. When it comes back online later this year, the reactor will be the first research or commercial reactor in the U.S. to be controlled with modern digital electronics. It will become a test bed for innovations in reactor management, which Baciak says should make the next generation of reactors safer and more efficient.

Nuclear engineering was established on the UF campus in 1957 and integrated with the department of materials science and engineering in 2011. Since then the program has grown, adding four faculty members: Jordan, Sedat Goluoglu, Andreas Enqvist and Baciak.

“This group of faculty have together developed a vibrant and sustainable educational and research program,” said Simon Phillpot, chair of the MSE department. “Jim Baciak, in particular, has emerged as a very effective leader. His appointment formalizes his leadership position and will enable him to launch new initiatives and to further develop the program.”

Baciak was a faculty member at UF from 2004-2010, spent two years in the National Security Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., and returned to UF in 2012.

In his eight years at UF, Baciak has brought in more than $8.2 million in project grant funding from federal agencies, national laboratories and industrial partners – including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Baciak’s expertise areas include radiation detector development and radiation measurements, gamma-ray spectroscopy, scintillation detectors, compound semiconductor materials, detector segmentation techniques, radiation imaging, background rejection techniques, national security and nuclear nonproliferation applications, and medical and industrial examinations.

He has published and contributed to more than 30 papers and more than 50 conference presentations. He is an associate editor for IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, and is the current chair for the International Society for Optical Engineering’s Penetrating Radiation Technical Group. He is also a co-developer of the Nuclear Security Summer School at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“I am honored to accept this position as director of the program,” said Baciak. “I am excited about the opportunity to lead the program, expand our reach in undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineering education, and to help maximize the research potential of our excellent faculty and students as one of the top nuclear engineering programs in the country.”

Baciak has also been appointed as the new Florida Power and Light Endowed Professor.