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Brian Wirth in ZEC Atrium

Wirth Named NE Department Head

After an extensive national search, Brian Wirth has been selected as the new head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering beginning August 1.

Wirth has been a Governor’s Chair Professor since arriving at UT in 2010. He is replacing Wes Hines, who is retiring after 29 dedicated years with the university, including the last 13 as the NE department head.

“First and foremost, it’s big shoes to fill because Wes Hines has done such a fabulous job with the department over the past 13 years. This is further exemplified in Dr. Hines being named the university Macebearer, which is very well deserved,” Wirth said. “Taking over this role is a tremendous opportunity to lead and give back to the university that has been so good to me. I am very excited about it.”

Wirth is an authority on the ways materials behave in extreme environments. He studies nuclear energy environments and materials with the goal of producing the safest nuclear energy possible while extending the life of the components and their materials, and furthering the development of advanced nuclear fission or fusion reactors.

Wirth participated in the DoE’s Modeling and Simulation Hub for nuclear power, known as the Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL). He has led a decades-long Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) project on developing high-fidelity advanced simulation tools for predicting plasma-surface interactions in the fusion energy environment.

In 2015, Wirth was one of nine researchers across the country awarded the DoE’s prestigious Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for his research supporting science, energy, and national security. His other awards include the 2016 Mishima Award for outstanding research in nuclear fuels and materials from the American Nuclear Society, the 2007 Fusion Power Associates David J. Rose Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award, and the 2004 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Nuclear Society.

Wirth is also part of the 2023-24 class of the Chancellor’s Leadership Academy, an eight-month leadership development program for UT faculty and staff.

“I am extremely excited to bring Brian Wirth into the college leadership,” said Dean Matthew Mench, the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair of the college. “We have witnessed the impact great leadership has on an organization with shining examples from UT System President Randy Boyd, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, and Wes Hines. I believe Brian Wirth will continue this tradition and move the department further upward toward its goal of being the No. 1-ranked nuclear engineering department in the nation through his combination of international reputation, vision for the department, and strategic skillset.”

Wirth is eager to lead the department at such an exciting time for nuclear engineering when the interest has continued to grow and the need for renewable energy sources expands.

“I think we are clearly one of the top three nuclear engineering departments in the country, and I want us to continue to be the best nuclear engineering department that we can be,” Wirth said. “I want us to serve the students at both the undergraduate and graduate level to ensure they get the best education and the best opportunities to impact Tennessee, the nation, and the world to continue to develop and push forward nuclear energy.”

Wirth earned his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was a DOE Nuclear Engineering Graduate Fellow.

Before coming to UT, Wirth was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked as a materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,