Brian Wirth headshot

Wirth Named NE Department Head

By Rhiannon Potkey. Photography by Shawn Poynter.

By Rhiannon Potkey. Photography by Shawn Poynter.

After an extensive national search, Brian Wirth has been selected as the new head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering.

Wirth has served as the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Computational Nuclear Engineering since arriving at UT in 2010. In his additional new role, he is replacing Wes Hines, who is retiring after 29 dedicated years with the university, including the last 13 as NE department head.

“First and foremost, it’s big shoes to fill because Wes Hines has done such a fabulous job with the department over the past 13 years. This is further exemplified in Dr. Hines’ being named the university Macebearer, which is very well deserved,” Wirth said.

Taking over this role is a tremendous opportunity to lead and give back to the university that has been so good to me. I am very excited about it.”

—Brian Wirth

Wirth is an authority on the ways materials behave in extreme environments. He studies nuclear energy environments and materials, with the goals of producing the safest nuclear energy possible while extending the life of the components and their materials and furthering the development of advanced nuclear fission and fusion reactors.

Wirth participated in the US Department of Energy’s Modeling and Simulation Hub for nuclear power, known as the Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors. He has led a decades-long Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing project developing high-fidelity advanced simulation tools for predicting plasma-surface interactions in the fusion energy environment.

In 2015, Wirth was one of nine researchers across the country awarded the DOE’s prestigious Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for his research supporting science, energy, and national security. His other honors include the 2016 Mishima Award for outstanding research in nuclear fuels and materials from the American Nuclear Society, the 2007 Fusion Power Associates David J. Rose Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award, and the 2004 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Nuclear Society.

Brian Wirth working in his lab

Wirth is currently part of the 2023–24 class of the Chancellor’s Leadership Academy, an eight-month leadership development program for UT faculty and staff. “I am extremely excited to bring Brian Wirth into the college leadership,” said Matthew Mench, dean and Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair.

“We have witnessed the impact great leadership has on an organization with shining examples from UT System President Randy Boyd, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, and Wes Hines. I believe Brian Wirth will continue this tradition and move the department further upward toward its goal of being the No. 1–ranked nuclear engineering department in the nation through his combination of international reputation, vision for the department, and strategic skill set.”

Wirth is eager to lead the department at such an exciting time for nuclear engineering, when interest continues to grow and the need for renewable energy sources expands.

“I think we are clearly one of the top three nuclear engineering departments in the country, and I want us to continue to be the best nuclear engineering department that we can be,” Wirth said. “I want us to serve the students at both the undergraduate and graduate level to ensure they get the best education and the best opportunities to impact Tennessee, the nation, and the world to continue to develop and push forward nuclear energy.”

Wirth earned his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech. He earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was a DOE Nuclear Engineering Graduate Fellow.

Before coming to UT, Wirth was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked as a materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“Brian Wirth has the vision and experience we need in this role at the Tickle College of Engineering,” Mench said.

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