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Virtual Learning

The console of the PULSTAR Reactor from North Carolina State University is displayed in a Jordanian university class. (Photo: NC State - PULSTAR Reactor)

Students without exposure to practical training are like athletes without exercise or practice. They may still have the right knowledge, but will find it difficult to apply it and perform useful work.

This scenario is a daily reality for many nuclear students, particularly in countries where research facilities and resources are limited.

A project under development at the IAEA is helping to alleviate this problem by bringing research reactors to remote classrooms with the help of live Internet streaming.

Research reactors serve as invaluable training centers for nuclear science and engineering students, but are not easily accessible to every interested student or professor. Out of 244 operational research reactors in the world, approximately half of that number are used for education and training - and travel to these facilities can be a costly burden for students and researchers, if they are not studying at a university that hosts a reactor. The internet reactor project, coordinated by the IAEA's Research Reactor Section, is intended to offer students virtual access to a research reactor and supports collaboration between universities with nuclear science and engineering programmes.

Alisa Carrigan, an Information Analyst in the IAEA's Research Reactor Section explained how the system works:

The Internet reactor laboratory was first used internationally in September 2010 at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, when they went online with North Carolina State University's PULSTAR reactor. The University of Texas has also used a similar setup for its larger nuclear classes and for its distance-learning programme involving other institutions within the United States. As an international organization, the IAEA is able to help identify which countries might benefit from the Internet reactor project, as well as working to find research reactors that might serve as potential centres for the remote education programme.

"There are a number of research reactors around the world that are underutilized at the moment," explains Ms. Carrigan, "and this would be a way to use them more frequently."

The IAEA is working to set up the Internet reactor in Latin America this year, and simultaenously is looking to further expand the project to other regions in the near future.

"At the moment, the IAEA is very much involved in locating potential reactor hosts and remote sites that might find the project useful," Ms. Carrigan said. "As part of that work, we are prepared to work with host reactors and participating universities every step of the way to make this a sustainable, useful tool."

With global interest for nuclear-based technologies and scientific applications on the rise, the IAEA's Internet reactor project is a promising example of an online tool that can effectively offer a solution to two challenges: increasing students' access to cutting-edge technology, and maximizing underutilized research reactors by using them to contribute to education and training around the world.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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