Justin Wilkerson, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is one of 35 faculty to receive the nationally competitive Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award administered by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).
“This accolade is a testament of Dr. Wilkerson’s hard work and dedication to the field, and signals that even greater things are to come,” said UTSA President Ricardo Romo in a congratulatory letter to Wilkerson.
Now in their 25th year, the awards are named for Ralph E. Powe, who served as the ORAU councilor from Mississippi State University for 16 years. Powe participated in numerous committees and special projects during his tenure and was elected chair of ORAU’s Council of Sponsoring Institutions prior to his death in 1996.
“ORAU is delighted to add the 2015 class of 35 innovative early researcher scholars to the long-tradition of excellence exhibited by Powe Awardees,” said Arlene Garrison, ORAU vice president. “The funding will enable broader exploration that is critical to building a highly successful research career at ORAU member universities.”
The awardees receive $5,000 in seed funds to enhance their research during the early stages of their career. Winners may use the grants to purchase equipment, fund students, or travel to professional meetings and conferences. UTSA will match Wilkerson’s ORAU award with an additional $7,500 making the total prize worth $12,500.
The objective of Wilkerson’s ORAU supported project is to develop a state-of-the-art computational tool that accounts for the strong elastic and diffusive couplings between radiation-induced point defects and line defects, thus enabling a one-of-a-kind capability for predicting the mechanical response of structural materials subject to high temperatures and radiation fluxes.
“Over the last several decades, it has become clear that the nation’s security, prosperity, and well-being are inextricably tied to the global supply of clean and affordable energy,” said Wilkerson. “Next-generation nuclear fission and fusion reactors can play a critical role in addressing these concerns. These type of reactors demand structural materials capable of safely operating at even higher temperatures and radiation fluxes than in current fission reactors. Consequently, it is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of and control over the microscopic processes that govern radiation damage and embrittlement in structural materials.”
Wilkerson said that due to the complexity of radiation damage, it is impractical to gain the necessary knowledge for next-generation nuclear materials from experiments alone, and he believes that multi-scale modeling must play a critical role.
Wilkerson joined UTSA in late 2014 with a desire to contribute to the university’s transformation into a top-tier research institution.
“I’m happy to bring the award to UTSA,” said Wilkerson. “Many people are not yet aware of the caliber of our junior faculty, and this award is but one of many signals of the great potential for UTSA to be a vital player in tackling some of the nation’s toughest problems.”