Graduation Year: 
1995

B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1995
M.S. Mechanical Engineering & Nuclear Engineering, 1998

Directorate Fellow, National Technical
Lead for Fuel Safety Research
Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho Falls, Idaho

Daniel Wachs comes from a family of nuclear engineers.

His grandfather was a forerunner in the industry, working on the first nuclear reactors to power submarines and heading the reactor physics program at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). And his father worked at the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant near where Daniel grew up in Rainier, Oregon, before taking a job at Oregon State to operate the nuclear engineering program’s training reactor.

When Wachs attended the College of Engineering at Oregon State, he was at first drawn into mechanical engineering and later earned master’s degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering.

“The professors at OSU were pretty remarkable,” Wachs said. “They inspired me, and they have had a sustaining impact on my career.”

A life-changing internship with Argonne National Laboratory helped launch his career at a time when the government was pulling back on new research — a period starting in the early 1990s and lasting nearly two decades.

Now, rapid technological advances combined with the demand for cleaner energy have spawned a renaissance in the industry. These advances have also given rise to research into technologies that must meet stringent safety-testing protocols, thus reinvigorating INL’s safety test reactors. Wachs, a leading authority on transient fuel testing, is responsible for articulating this new mission on behalf of the Department of Energy, the government agency that runs INL.

“New things are emerging that we never expected,” he said. “It’s a pretty exciting time to be a part of the program.”

With the resurgence of the industry, Wachs is seeing a huge influx of nuclear researchers in their 20s and 30s.

“I’ve had an opportunity to mentor a number of people,” he said. “I’m proud of these people and cherish the opportunity to influence their careers and help them grow into impactful leaders. The long-term success of this field relies upon how effectively we empower people to carry the mantle to the next level.”