Haifeng ZhangHaifeng Zhang, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering, is part of a $1 million Department of Energy grant to develop and integrate a new sensor that will detect deviations from normal operating conditions in nuclear power plants.

As co-investigator, Zhang will work alongside the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to create a special sensor that provides more reliable measurements and can survive in strong, harsh environments. He says the sensor will help power plant employees notice atypical operating conditions in the plant, helping lower the likelihood for a disaster or emergency.

“This special sensor will be really helpful for the nuclear power plant industry, and it’s a critical problem that has yet to be solved. The resulting increase in safety and operating margins is expected to enhance the long-term viability and economic competitiveness of power plants and directly support the DOE’s mission,” said Zhang.

The sensor will use and couple waves of sound and light, increasing its sensitivity and reliability with the plant’s challenging environment. Current sensors in power plants are under-developed and are difficult to survive in harsh environments.

The grant is expected to last three years.