Fueled by a passion for research

Kyzer Gerez working with Associate Professor Camille Palmer.

Kyzer Gerez works with Associate Professor Camille Palmer.

Kyzer Gerez says he has been set on a career in nuclear engineering ever since he was in grade school in Philadelphia.

In May, Gerez, was awarded a Barry Goldwater scholarship. Gerez is a junior in the Oregon State University College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. The competitive scholarship program, named in honor of the late senator from Arizona, was created by Congress in 1986 to encourage students to pursue research careers in math, natural sciences, and engineering.

Gerez got his first taste of research when Camille Palmer, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, offered him an opportunity to get involved in a small project.

“Kyzer stood out when I had the opportunity to teach the incoming class in fall 2016,” Palmer said. “The technical depth of Kyzer’s questions as a first-year student clearly demonstrated his drive, interest, and ability to assimilate technical concepts.”

Gerez worked with Palmer on a modeling and simulation project for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to better understand how the noble metal phase forms in nuclear fuel as it is irradiated in a reactor, and how this impacts fuel performance. A paper resulting from this work was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

“I ended up really enjoying the project, and that’s how I came to really want to do a research career,” Gerez said.

His appetite whetted, Gerez continued to ask for more research opportunities, and he has homed in on security as a focus area. He worked on another modeling project on the noble metal phase to determine where spent fuel samples may have originated.

“Kyzer modeled several different reactor use scenarios and investigated isotope ratios in the noble metal that could potentially serve as an indicator of what type of reactor it came from, and if the plutonium being reprocessed was weapons grade,” Palmer said. Their paper resulting from this work has been accepted for publication in Progress in Nuclear Energy.

Gerez has since worked on additional research projects with NSE faculty and beyond.

After his sophomore year, Gerez interned at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked on a Department of Homeland Security problem. His project involved modeling nodes of the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, and he investigated how a radiation detector’s ability to discriminate nuclear material is affected by the volume of vehicle traffic passing through a node. He returns to Los Alamos this summer for a second internship.

Gerez is also a Nuclear Regulatory Commission scholar, he serves on the leadership of the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management student chapter, and he is a participant in the COE Grand Challenges Scholar Program.

Gerez remains humble about his accomplishments.

“I didn’t really think of my work as being that special,” Gerez said about winning a Goldwater scholarship. “But I guess this puts it into perspective a bit.”

June 18, 2019