Ep 223: Lane Carasik - Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, VCU
Lane’s Early Career (1:47)
(1:47-14:36) Lane discusses his initial interest in nuclear and his college coursework that led
him to where he is now.
Q. How did you get into nuclear?
(1:47) Lane Carasik is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Virginia
Commonwealth University. When Lane was in high school, he took classes at the local
community college. There one of his math professors revealed that he’d been in the nuclear
field for over 20 years. When Lane began looking into bachelor’s degrees, his mentor
recommended he look into nuclear programs. Lane was interested in nuclear and the benefits
for the environment and decrease the effects of climate change. Lane got into University of
Tennessee-Knoxville where he majored in nuclear engineering.
Q. What about nuclear made you fall in love with the field?
(3:08) Lane says the field of nuclear is so diverse in the different applications and operations.
He also met other people who, after getting nuclear engineering degrees, went onto work in
business or finance. So, the degree seemed specialized, but also broad and useful no matter
where Lane ended up.
Q. What was your PhD in?
(4:40) Lane got his PhD in nuclear engineering focusing on thermal fluids - how to get the heat
from the reactor to the power conversion cycle. His first year of the program was filled with
nuclear engineering classes, but subsequent years he took mechanical engineering, aerospace
engineering, and civil engineering courses.
Q. How did aerospace and civil engineering interact with your PhD in nuclear?
(5:07) To Lane, nuclear engineering is the ultimate interdisciplinary degree. So, to him, all of the
other courses could be extended to apply to nuclear.
Q. During that time you also interned as well?
(5:56) Between community college and his bachelor’s degree, Lane did a research experience
at Georgia Tech Savannah. At the time he got the opportunity to work on Boeing 787s in
Charleston, South Carolina. The next summer he worked at the Tennessee Valley Authority, a
utility partially owned by the government that is otherwise a contractor operator.
Q. After getting your PhD in what was essentially heat transfer, was there anything you felt you
were uniquely an expert?
(12:48) Lane hesitates to use the term expert, but if he had to pick, he would say he specialized
in computational modeling, specifically high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics and design
level fluid dynamics.
Home in Labs and Universities (14:37)
(14:37-16:56) Lane talks about how he experimented with working in different parts of the
nuclear industry but has happily found his place in academia.
Q. After college you moved into the startup world?
(14:37) Lane bounced around to different types of organizations in the industry, but he
eventually came to the realization that national labs and universities was where he wanted to
grow his career. Lane recognizes that both unity and vendors do important work, but it’s now
where he shines.
Q. Why do you shine more in the academic setting?
(16:12) Lane has a lot of ideas - some of them are bad - but a lot of them are good and he loves
getting into the details of research and seeing where it takes him.
Advocating for Nuclear (16:57)
(16:57-49:47) Lane encourages people to advocate for nuclear and talks about lessons he
passes onto his students.
Q. What if national priorities regarding nuclear are wrong?
(16:57) Lane says if we want to realign priorities regarding a national energy policy in the United
States, more people need to advocate to their Congresspeople, their Senators, their House
members, the White House and say ‘we need an energy policy that includes nuclear, that
includes these other energy sources, and this is why.’ What your reasons are, is entirely up to
you. For Lane, he believes we need to prevent climate change from destroying our planet and
having major catastrophic consequences on our society. Lane wants nuclear, but he also
believes in diversifying the energy profile with solar, natural gas, hydro.
Q. How do you think you developed the skills of being both a technical speaking engineering
and also an eloquent policy advocate?
(23:11) Lane’s family has pushed him to expand his abilities beyond the STEM field, especially
in the arts. He is interested in arts associated with construction, for example looking into building
design and architecture.
Q. What lessons have you learned in your early career you share with your students?
(26:00) One of the first lessons Lane teaches his students is to make the connection between
theory and design. Find out if your design is possible using theory. Step two is finding the most
favorable option and proceeding with design. But even then, asking “Will the physics of the
design will work? Are the materials available to be purchased? Is there appropriate pressure
and heat correlations?”
Exploring Fluids and Advanced Systems Technology (49:48)
(49:48-1:03:35) Lane discusses different types of nuclear he researches.
Q. What are some of the challenges you personally want to take on in the transfer space?
(49:48) Lane’s research group is in fluids and advanced systems technology (FAST) and right
now the main focus is the thermohydraulic of an advanced reactor: sodium FAST reactors,
molten salt reactors of either solid fuel or molten fuel, and gas reactors. Lane is interested in all
of them and the tools are similar across the three, primarily only the modeling changes.
Q. Before computers engineers would implement technology with only practical application
knowledge, but now we keep going deeper and deeper into understanding something we’ve
already found the practical applications of, why is that? Do we go too far sometimes, paralyzing
ourselves from making progress?
(54:40) Lane said innate curiosity is one reason. There’s so much left to be learned and so
much more meaningful research to be done.
Q. What’s your favorite coolant fuel combination?
(1:00:18) All of them have fun things going on, according to Lane, but his favorite is molten
salts. They’re inherently cool because they’re a coolant salt of a fuel salt or it can have uranium
or plutonium fuel dissolved into it. For salts in a lab, Lane would probably pick a chloride salt.
Future of Nuclear (1:03:36)
(1:03:36-1:08:19) Lane discusses the future of nuclear domestically and around the world.
Q. What do you think is the future of nuclear?
(1:03:36) Lane believe that if one advanced reactor company is successful in building a new
type of nuclear reactor all companies will benefit. Bret agrees that if one reactor company can
prove a new reactor design works, there will be a rush of investment flow. Nuclear is important,
Lane believes that we need to save the world from climate change. He thinks China and Russia
are going to continue to build reactors and other countries are going to continue buying
reactors, whether that’s from the US or other nations. Lane is also optimistic South Korea will
resume building nuclear reactors and hopefully Japan too. But here in the US, a lot of success
is going to depend on policy changes.