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Nuclear Engineering Internships for High School Students

6 minute read

In this article, we will explore some of the top internships in nuclear engineering specifically designed for high school students, emphasizing the unique opportunities, challenges, and valuable skills gained through these immersive experiences.

Benefits of Nuclear Engineering Internships

Internships in nuclear engineering provide a platform for students to witness the practical application of nuclear principles and theories, bridging the gap between classroom learning and engineering jobs. The hands-on experience gained as a summer intern is invaluable for understanding the intricacies of nuclear engineering and its applications.

Secondly, internships in nuclear engineering allow students to explore the various facets of the field. From nuclear power generation and reactor design to radiation protection and nuclear materials, the diversity within nuclear engineering becomes evident with work experience and exposure to industry professionals. This exploration aids prospective students in identifying their specific interests and potential career paths within the nuclear engineering landscape.

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Top Internships in Nuclear Engineering for High School Students

1. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) High School Summer STEM Program

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory offers a summer internship program specifically designed for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Within this program, students can delve into nuclear engineering projects, gaining exposure to cutting-edge research and technologies.

For example, the Next Generation STEM Internships Program (NGSI) is available for rising juniors/seniors or recent graduates interested in STEM internships at ORNL, with applications accepted until October 23, 2023, for the Spring 2024 session.

The ARC/ORNL High School Summer Math Science Technology Institute is a 2-week program providing hands-on research experiences for high school students and STEM teachers from the Appalachian Region.

The Science Accelerating Girls’ Engagement (SAGE) camp, a week-and-a-half-long summer day camp, is designed for high school students, focusing on engaging young women in STEM professions through hands-on activities, facility tours, and career talks.

While the application window for the Summer 2023 sessions has closed for some programs, interested students can explore these opportunities for future sessions. For more information and updates, students can contact [email protected] or visit the ORNL website.

2. Idaho National Laboratory (INL) High School Internship Program

The Idaho National Laboratory provides a unique internship program for high school students interested in nuclear engineering. Participants have the chance to work on projects related to nuclear energy, materials research, and reactor design. The program offers a comprehensive overview of the diverse applications of nuclear analysis. The six-week internship focuses on applying STEM concepts to solve practical problems, enhancing the students' knowledge and complementing their high school engineering education.

Applicants must be at least 16 years old, legal U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The application requirements include a statement of interest, high school transcripts, current class schedule, resume, and contact information for teachers who can provide letters of recommendation. This immersive experience not only provides hands-on learning but also opens doors to future educational and career possibilities.

3. Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis (NESLS) Program

The Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis (NESLS) Program is offered at various national laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) discussed above. This nuclear engineering summer internship requires that applicants be current students pursuing a nuclear engineering, science, or related degree. Community college students working towards an Associate of Science or Associate of Engineering degree can also apply. While this might be a stretch for most high school students early on, why not try applying for the NESLS program for the summer after your senior year? Benefits of the NESLS program include a stipend based on academic level, paid on a biweekly schedule, a $175/week housing allowance (paid with the stipend), and limited travel reimbursement if eligible.

4. Westinghouse Science Honors Institute (WSHI)

The Westinghouse Science Honors Institute offers a summer internship program for high school students interested in science and engineering, including nuclear engineering. Participants engage in projects and experiments related to nuclear energy, gaining practical experience and insight into the applications of nuclear engineering.

To gain admission to the WSHI program, students need to be recommended by science coordinators or guidance counselors at high schools in Western Pennsylvania and neighboring communities. These coordinators and counselors receive comprehensive WSHI information, including application forms, and nominate high-achieving high school juniors with a strong academic record in both science and the humanities (maintaining a minimum B average). Crucially, students must demonstrate a genuine passion for science.

5. North Carolina State University Nuclear Engineering Summer Camp

While not a traditional internship, the Nuclear Engineering Summer Camp at NC State University provides high school students with an immersive experience in nuclear engineering. The program includes hands-on experiments, lectures from experts, and exposure to various aspects of nuclear engineering. It is open to rising juniors, rising seniors, and graduating seniors, and explores nuclear science and technology's applications in energy, medicine, and industry through group projects, labs, lectures, and field trips. This is a 3-week program and costs $1500, which covers accommodations, meals, and industrial trips. 

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Challenges and Solutions

While the benefits of high school internships in nuclear engineering are substantial, certain challenges may arise, requiring collaborative efforts to find effective solutions.

1. Safety and Security Concerns

Challenge: The perception of nuclear engineering as a potentially hazardous discipline might raise apprehensions among parents, who could be worried about the safety and well-being of their children during their participation in such programs.

Solution: Internship programs implement strict safety protocols, ensuring that students are supervised by experienced professionals at all times. Virtual simulations and remote projects can also be integrated to provide a safe learning environment.

2. Limited Accessibility to Nuclear Facilities

Challenge: Access to nuclear facilities may be limited due to security measures, making it challenging for high school students to experience hands-on activities.

Solution: Collaborations between educational institutions and research facilities can lead to organized tours, virtual access, or the creation of replica experiments that allow students to explore nuclear engineering concepts in a controlled environment.

3. Educational Prerequisites

Challenge: High school students may lack the necessary educational background to fully grasp complex nuclear engineering concepts.

Solution: Preparatory courses or workshops can be offered by educational institutions to equip students with foundational knowledge before engaging in internships. This can help bridge the gap and ensure a more fulfilling learning experience.

Skills Gained Through High School Internships in Nuclear Engineering

These programs equip high school student interns with diverse skills essential for success as a nuclear engineer and beyond.

1. Radiation Safety Knowledge

Internships in nuclear engineering provide students with hands-on experience in handling radioactive materials, fostering a deep understanding of radiation safety protocols—a critical skill within the field.

2. Technical Competence

Exposure to state-of-the-art technologies and experiments enhances students' technical competence in areas such as reactor design, nuclear materials, and radiation detection.

3. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Nuclear engineering projects often involve complex problem-solving. High school students develop critical thinking skills as they tackle challenges related to reactor design, safety protocols, and experimental analysis.

4. Collaboration and Teamwork

Working on nuclear engineering projects requires collaboration with peers and professionals. Students learn to work effectively in teams, an essential skill in the collaborative nature of nuclear engineering projects.

5. Ethical Considerations

Nuclear engineering involves ethical considerations related to safety, environmental impact, and public perception. Internships expose students to these considerations, fostering a sense of responsibility and ethical decision-making.

Polygence Scholars Are Also Passionate About

Nuclear Engineering Projects Completed by Polygence Students

  • Arif's project meticulously assessed criteria to identify optimal moderators for nuclear fission reactors. The primary goal was to pinpoint the most effective and practical compounds that, when employed as moderators, could facilitate a chain reaction with maximum efficiency. To achieve this, the chosen moderator had to possess specific attributes, including the rapid thermalization of neutrons and a low affinity for neutron absorption, while remaining cost-effective and abundant. Arif narrowed down his exploration to two substances, Zirconium Hydride and Yttrium Hydride, with a focus on their potential as moderators for slow water reactors. The study aimed to delve into their ability to fulfill the outlined criteria, shedding light on their viability and efficiency in enhancing the performance of nuclear reactors.

    Link to Arif’s Research Paper: https://doi.org/10.58445/rars.321

  • This summer, Polygence student Ethan conducted research on nuclear waste and reprocessing techniques. Ethan's summer was all about studying chemical separation methods in nuclear waste reprocessing. He wanted to know the benefits and challenges of this method, answering questions like: How much nuclear waste is out there? How much of it can actually be turned into something useful? Turns out, only a handful of countries are really into this reprocessing gig. But here's the kicker: as more countries get nuclear power, the nuclear waste problem increases. Ethan's research showed the importance of reprocessing technologies for a nuclear-powered future.

Next Steps with Polygence

Internships in nuclear engineering for high school students open doors to a world of possibilities within this specialized field. The hands-on experiences, exposure to cutting-edge technologies, and mentorship from industry professionals provide a solid foundation for future careers in nuclear engineering. 

As the demand for skilled professionals in nuclear engineering continues to grow, high school internships play a crucial role in nurturing the next generation of engineers and scientists who will contribute to advancements in nuclear technology and address the global challenges of sustainable energy.

Explore exciting opportunities in nuclear engineering by applying for one of the internships listed above, or engaging in a research project with one of our knowledgeable Polygence Mentors. As a mentor myself, I'm here to guide you through the intricacies of these internships or assist you in crafting a personalized research experience. Whether you choose a structured internship or a dynamic research project, you'll gain valuable insights and hands-on experience in the diverse and innovative field of nuclear engineering.

If you’re looking for internships in related fields, check out our guides to physics internships for high school students and more general engineering internships for high school students.