The Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab is fully funded after the Robison Excelsior Foundation pledged $3.2 million to the program.
Doug Robison began the foundation and is a member of the President Ventures Council, where he learned about the NEXT lab program. He said his intention was to fully fund the program and allow students to carry out their research with the molten salt test loop.
“It’s an incredible investment and opportunity for ACU,” Robison said. “The potential possibilities of this and other research NEXT is involved in is really incredible.”
The molten salt test loop is a cooling component that can be implemented in reactors in the future to make them safer and more efficient in creating clean energy and medical isotopes.
Dr. Rusty Towell, NEXT lab director, said the funding allows students to work without worrying about not having enough funding.
“It helps us move forward in a more efficient manner,” Towell said. “It really allows us to have continuity in the program.”
The students began working on the lab a month ago by running molten salt through a loop. By running the molten salt, chemists can check if the metal container is eroding before testing how the salt reacts at higher temperatures.
“It’s a huge step,” Towell said. “You have to raise it to very high temperatures and then you have the challenges of the equipment that works in room temperature and see if that work when you raise it hundreds of degrees.”
Towell said the upcoming goals are to continue pushing the current salt to higher temperatures and looking at other salts to test. He said he is grateful for the donors who support the NEXT lab and for the Robison Excelsior Foundation.
“It is an extreme gift that allows us to focus on the lab work and not on the fundraising,” said Towell.
Additionally, the NEXT lab is partnering with the Idaho National Lab (INL) and other universities to collaborate on a test reactor.