What College Courses Do You Need to Take to Major in Nuclear Engineering?

by Susan Sherwood

Nuclear engineering is on the cutting edge of technology, and professionals in this discipline take on challenges that can tremendously influence the medical, agricultural, energy, space and food industries. The first step in entering this field is earning an undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering. In addition to an institution's general education requirements, you must take classes in mathematics, science, engineering and nuclear engineering for this major.

Math Must-Haves

In nuclear engineering programs, students often take mathematics and related courses in the first few semesters. Schools typically require three calculus classes, which may be combined with analytical geometry. Calculus covers topics such as limits, exponential and logarithmic functions and vectors. Differential equations follows up calculus, examining theories, solutions and applications within the subject area. A computer science course for engineers may be required or offered as an elective.

Science Studies

Nuclear engineering programs vary somewhat in the number of mandated science courses. Introductory chemistry and general physics usually are included, although these occasionally are among the elective options. In some institutions, physics is taught in conjunction with calculus. If a program includes a strong emphasis on physics, the additional required classes focus on specific areas within the subject, such as mechanics, quantum physics and electricity and magnetism.

Engineering Obligations

Foundational courses include basic engineering classes, such as electrical engineering, as well as thermodynamics, which concentrates on topics such as thermodynamic laws and open and closed systems. A mechanics of materials course focuses on designing materials and the effects of and interactions among stress, strain and temperature. Conduction, convection and radiation are studied in a heat transfer course. Other potential requirements include dynamics, which examines work, energy and relative motion, and fluid flow, which covers fluid behavior under a variety of conditions.

Nuclear Necessities

A nuclear engineering program requires several classes specific to the field. A basic overview of the discipline may be identified as an introductory or fundamentals course. Nuclear power is examined from many angles, including theory, power plant reactor systems, materials, design, engineering and thermal hydraulics. Safety issues are covered in courses such as risk assessment, applied radiation protection, and radiation detection and instrumentation systems. Classes involving specific technologies, such as nuclear instrumentation, have laboratory components.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.

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