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Then and Now: Archives Show a Window in the Department’s Origins

Archival copies of The Tennessee Alumnus provide a window into the priorities of the university in the mid-to-late 50s in an effort to ramp up a nuclear engineering department.

The Tennessee Alumnus Summer 1957 cover.

In 1957, at the age of 34, Professor P.F. Pasqua was named head of the newest department on UT’s campus: the Department of Nuclear Engineering, which was the first nuclear engineering department in a rapidly developing field. Prior to this post, Pasqua served as the director of the mechanical engineering department. In its first year, the new department graduated 40 students.

The Tennessee Alumnus Winter 1956 cover.A year earlier, the board of trustees, citing an urgent need, requested funding from the legislature for the development of a nuclear engineering program to train youth for job opportunities in the region.

Cover of Tennessee Alumnus from Winter 1956It was a natural fit, with research labs nearby, including the Atomic Energy Commission at Oak Ridge, the Arnold Engineering Development Center at Tullahoma, and the Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama. With a shortage of workers to fill positions, the department would serve an important purpose in training the workforce and boosting the regional economy.


Cover of Tennessee Alumnus from Autumn 1957

Courses in nuclear engineering had been offered for ten years prior to the department’s formation, and included subjects such as reactor control, reactor design, and diffusion theory; however, a formal program would allow much greater depth and breadth of research in the field of nuclear power.


The Tennessee Alumnus Winter 1957 cover.

Once the department was established, it requested a new laboratory to be built on the 465-acre Cherokee Farm across Loudon Lake from the agricultural campus. Plans called for a building to contain equipment that would be purchased with a $97,000 grant to UT from the Atomic Energy Commission.

The Winter 1957 issues of Tennessee Alumnus stated, “The new laboratory will contain an analog computer known as an ‘electronic brain,’ which solves complicated mathematics problems rapidly and accurately.” Other equipment requested includes special hoods for use in working with nuclear counting and health physics equipment used to establish the intensity of radiation.

Today, under the direction of Department Head Wes Hines, the fourth department head in the program’s history, the nuclear engineering department continues to grow. Construction is underway on a new 228,000-square feet engineering complex that will house offices, study spaces, classrooms, collaboration areas, and 23 new nuclear engineering labs, tripling the department’s current physical footprint. It is consistently ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report and has produced more than 1,400 graduates in the past 60 years.

UT's 225 anniversary logo.This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

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Élan Young: