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Graduate Research Assistantships Available Fall 2023 at UNM-ISNPS
Doctoral Graduation - Ragai Altamimi
UNM, Purdue work to develop autonomous control architecture for microreactors
First Year Progress Report for NASA Advanced Radiator Project
Physical Location:
Ferris Engineering Center
Room 1120

Mailing Address:
Institute for Space & Nuclear Power Studies
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Phone: 505.277.5442
Fax: 505.277.5433

Online: Contact Form

Projects Overview

Research at ISNPS

ISNPS possesses a wide range of technical expertise, including: design, thermal-hydraulics and neutronics analysis of gas-cooled, liquid metal-cooled and heat pipe-cooled space nuclear reactors; design optimization and performance of heat pipe radiators; thermal management of Space Nuclear Reactor Power Systems (SNRPSs); transient modeling of heat pipes, including the startup from a frozen state; transient operation, safety and autonomous control of fully-integrated SNRPSs; modeling, design optimization and vacuum testing of high-temperature energy conversion devices, such as thermionic diodes, segmented and non-segmented thermoelectric devices, and Alkali-Metal Thermal-to-Electric Converters (AMTECs); and design, optimization, and thermal and stress analyses of segmented and cascaded thermoelectric converters for SNRPSs and Advanced Radioisotope Power Systems (ARPSs). The results of the research conducted at ISNPS since 1984 have been widely published in refereed technical Journals and Proceedings of technical conferences.

Nuclear Instrumentation and Control Simulation (NICSim)

The University of New Mexico's Institute for Space and Nuclear Power Studies (UNM-ISNPS), in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Albuquerque, NM, is initiating a new program starting fall 2018 under a multi-year DOE-NEUP grant. The new program is led by Distinguished and Regent's Professor Mohamed El-Genk, with key participation and involvement by Dr. Christopher Lamb, member of technical staff at SNL and Research Assistant Professor at UNM, and Dr. Timothy Schriener, Research Assistant Professor with UNM-ISNPS. The primary focus of the effort is to develop a Nuclear Instrumentation and Control Simulation (NICSim) platform with novel emulytics capability to simulate control systems and components in nuclear power plants. The platform would use the DOE SCEPTRE emulation framework, developed at SNL to evaluate cyberattacks on energy grids, to simulate digital instrumentation & control (I&C) systems in nuclear power plants by running actual software images, or, if needed, specific hardware elements of these systems. It would simulate (via computational models), emulate (via precise firmware and software execution in emulated hardware environments), and embed hardware to evaluate the cybersecurity posture, vulnerability, and potential response of control systems in nuclear power plants to cyber-attacks. The hardware emulation of I&C system components, using real device firmware and software images, would enable the NICSim platform to evaluate with high fidelity the response and behavior of the actual software running system components under cyberattack. The emulated I&C system components would be coupled to simplified, physicsbased models of a given plant's components to enable real and direct feedback of the integrated I&C system's behavior, both nominally and while under cyber-attack. The results of this cooperative and joint effort between UNM-ISNPS and SNL will help increase the understanding of the real risks of cyber- compromise to I&C systems in the existing and future nuclear power plants. This effort will also help educate and train a new cadre of engineers and computer scientists and the next generation of researchers and security specialists.

LOBO Nuclear CyberSecurity (LOBO NCS) Platform

The LOBO Nuclear CyberSecurity (LOBO NCS) Platform is currently under development at ISNPS in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) to investigate cyber-vulnerabilities of nuclear reactor plants. In addition to cybersecurity research, the architecture of the LOBO NCS platform can also provide academic education and professional training. LOBO NCS can support both cybersecurity investigations of existing nuclear plant I&C systems as well as research developing next generation digital I&C systems for autonomous control and remote operation. It links MATLAB Simulink models of a nuclear power plant and components to the emulated or physical hardware Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) in the digital I&C systems. By emulating the I&C system using virtual machines (VMs), LOBO NCS provides a higher degree of fidelity than simple functional PLC models, expanding the types of cybersecurity investigations which may be performed on the platform. It can easily be extended to different nuclear power plant types and I&C system architectures including advanced Small Modular and Micro Reactors, research reactors, and space nuclear power systems.


Layout and components within the LOBO NCS Platform.

The Simulink models in the LOBO NCS platform communicate to the emulated PLCs in the I&C systems using a fast and reliable data transfer interface and broker program. The transfer interface and broker programs run on the main server node as the Simulink models. The communication with and between the PLCs in the plant's I&C systems uses real industrial control systems communication protocols, such as Modbus and DNP3. Each of the emulated PLCs in the I&C systems runs within separate VMs located on multi-processor server nodes connected to main server through the testing Ethernet network. Physical hardware PLCs can also be connected to the testing network in place of, or in conjunction with, the emulated PLCs. A user-friendly graphic interface with plotting capabilities in the LOBO NCS provides a real-time display of simulation results on a large format screen. The Manipulate Process Input/Output (ManiPIO) framework initiates simulated cybersecurity events on PLCs in the I&C systems. It is developed for testing purposes and are void of any cybersecurity risks. The ManiPIO data capture module records and performs deep packet inspection of the Modbus traffic sent through the network for further analysis.


Results of simulated transient of sequential surge-in and surge-out events and of proportional heater control functions for Allen-Bradley commercial hardware PLC and emulated PLC with OpenPLC during normal operation and while under a False Data Injection Attack (FDIA) targeting the Modbus holing register for the system pressure state variable to activate the heaters within the pressurizer.

In addition to supporting the development of next generation cybersecurity and autonomous control technology and methods for terrestrial nuclear reactor power plants and space nuclear power systems, and other energy systems, the LOBO NCS platform would be used for academic education and professional training of a new cadre of nuclear cybersecurity researchers and engineers. The LOBO NCS employs widely used and often open-source modeling and simulation technology and methods. These include the Simulink programing languages, POSIX IPC shared memory data transfer and semaphores in the developed data transfer interface, and the open sources PLCs using OpenPLC. Our team welcomes the opportunities to interact with other groups developing similar capabilities and to compare results of case studies.


Results of simulated transient of steam generator linked to feedwater control PLC following a 10% increase in steam demand both for nominal operation and for a simulated FDIA using the ManiPIO program.

NEUP Milestone Reports

Milestone 1 Progress Report: Implementation and Validation of PLC Emulation and Data Transfer presents the results of the research effort developing and validating a programmable logic controller (PLC) emulation methodology and developing a reliable, fast running interface that effectively links a PLC to a physics based simulation model within Matlab Simulink framework.

Milestone 3 Progress Report: Emulated Programmable Logic Controllers for the Protection and Safety Monitoring and Operation I&C Systems in a Representative PWR Plant for Cybersecurity Applications presents the results of the research effort developing and test emulated PLCs for a representative PWR plant plant protection and operation I&C systems architectures. The report details the design and testing of the different PLCs as well as simulation results showing their perfromce when connected to the dynamic physics based models of the representative PWR plant.

Milestone 4 Progress Report: A Physics based, Dynamic Model of a Pressurized Water Reactor Plant with Programmable Logic Controllers for Cybersecurity Applications presents the results of the research effort developing a physics based PWR plant model within Matlab Simulink framework to be coupled with the emulated PLCs in the representative I&C system architecture in the NICSim platform. The report details the physics-based component models of the nuclear reactor, pressurizer, steam generator, reactor coolant pump, and primary loop, as well their validation testing and sample transient results.

Milestone 6 Progress Report: Validation of LOBO Nuclear CyberSecurity (LOBO NCS) Platform and Demonstration of Manipulate Process I/O (ManiPIO) Framework for Cybersecurity Testing and Evaluation presents results of the effort validating the LOBO NCS platform and testing the Manipulate Process I/O (ManiPIO) cybersecurity event generation tool. This report presents a comparison of simulated transients with the physics-based models and . emulated PLCs integrated into the LOBO NCS platform and the DOE SCEPTRE platfomr.

Some of the relevant technology and research projects which have been conducted at ISNPS include:

  • Design of gas-cooled, liquid metal-cooled and heat pipe-cooled space nuclear reactors; this effort at ISNPS has led to the development of three innovative reactor concepts: the gas-cooled pellet bed reactor (PeBR), the bimodal PeBR for nuclear electrical power and thermal propulsion applications, and the recent liquid metal-cooled, Sectored Compact Reactor (SCoRe) for the avoidance of single-point failure in the reactor cooling system.
  • Neutronics design and analysis of SNRPSs; current efforts are investigating the use of Spectral Shift Absorber (SSA) materials, as a passive and effective means to ensure sub-criticality of fast-spectrum space reactors in the event of water/wet-sand submersion with or without core flooding subsequent to a launch abort accident.
  • Nuclear fuel design, performance, and chemical and mechanical analyses.
  • Thermal management of spacecraft, power systems, and thermal energy storage systems (e.g. employing the melting and freezing of LiF or other energy storage materials, with an understanding of the thermal and change-of-phase processes in microgravity).
  • Interaction of lasers with spacecraft structure , and application of Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis for performance assessment and design of future space systems.
  • State-of-the-art modeling and design optimization capabilities for heat pipe radiators which use alkali metal (cesium, rubidium, potassium, sodium and lithium) and low temperature (water) heat pipes, including the startup from a frozen state. These capabilities have been extensively verified using test data.
  • Design, experimental development and testing of low-temperature heat pipes , such as water heat pipes.
  • Modeling of transient and steady-state operations and safety of fully-integrated space nuclear power systems (e.g. the ISNPS models of the SP-100 space nuclear power systems for 100-1000 kWe power levels (SNPSAM) and of TOPAZ-II and other single-cell TFE type space nuclear power systems (TITAM), and the latest Dynamic Simulation Model (DynMo) for SNRPSs developed at ISNPS using the Simulink® platform integrated with Matlab®).
  • Autonomous control of space power systems , with application to the SP-100 space nuclear power systems.
  • Modeling, design optimization and testing of static energy conversion devices technology for space applications, including Thermionics (TI), segmented and cascaded ThermoElectrics (TE), and AMTEC converters.
  • Experimental investigation and performance evaluation of Pluto-Express (PX) vapor-anode, multi-tube AMTEC cells, in collaboration with the AFRL in Albuquerque, Nichols Research, and AMPS. This effort resulted in major improvements in the design of PX-series AMTEC cells that were being tested jointly at AFRL. This testing, modeling and evaluation effort also included the development of thermal conductivity data for Min-K insulation materials and a comparison of its radial and lateral conductance with those of multi-foil insulation for PX cells.
  • 3-D transient and steady-state thermal and mechanical analyses of segmented and Skutterudite TE converters to assess the effect of adding different sublimation suppression coatings on the TE converters performance.
  • Design and analysis of ARPSs with Cascaded and Segmented TE converters , with complete design and detailed analysis of the TE arrays and their thermal coupling to General Purpose Heat Source Bricks, and the electrical connections needed to achieve the desired load DC voltage.
  • Submersion cooling experiments of high-performance computer chips using pool boiling of dielectric liquids such as HFE-7100 and FC-72 from micro-porous surfaces.

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Projects Completed

I. Nuclear Fuel Technology

  • Design and analysis of nuclear fuel storage facilities
  • Thermophysical properties and swelling behavior of nitride and carbide fuels
  • Coated particle fuel compact (CPFC) for use in radioisotope heater units (RHUs) and general purpose heat sources (GPHSs)
  • Compatibility of hydrogen with carbide and structural materials at high temperatures
  • See publications on this topic

II .Nuclear Reactor Safety

  • Analysis of core meltdown accidents and molten fuel-coolant interaction phenomena
  • Nuclear fuel swelling and irradiation behavior during normal operation and severe accidents
  • Debris bed coolability with application to post-accident heat removal
  • See publications on this topic

III. Nuclear Reactor Thermal-Hydraulics

  • Flow visualization and modeling of transition from mixed convection to buoyancy-induced turbulence in vertical annuli
  • Pool boiling and critical heat flux from underside of flat and curved surfaces with application to reactor vessel cooling in severe accidents
  • Critical heat flux at low flow and low pressure
  • Natural and mixed convection of water in multi-rod bundles and vertical annuli
  • See publications on this topic

IV. Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion Systems

  • Design, optimization, modeling, and analysis of space power systems
  • SP-100
  • Pellet Bed Reactor (PeBR) for thermal and electric propulsion missions
  • Bimodal systems for electric power and thermal propulsion
  • Heat Pipes - Segmented Thermoelectric Module Converters (HP-STMCs) space reactor power system
  • Scalable AMTEC Integrated Reactor Space Power System (SAIRS)
  • Design and analysis of SP-100 thermoelectric space power system
  • Studies of void formation during the freezing of alkali metal coolants
  • Design and analysis of TOPAZ-II thermionic space power systems
  • Design and analysis of radiation shield and nuclear reactors for space missions and surface power
  • Reactor design with high burnup capabilities
  • Design of heat pipes-cooled fast spectrum reactors
  • Design of heat pipes radiator for space reactor power systems
  • Materials studies for use in space nuclear power systems
  • i. Refractory metals
  • ii. Mechanically Alloyed-Oxide Dispersion Strengthened Steels
  • See publications on this topic

V. Planetary Surface Power Systems - Manned Rover and Surface Outpost

VI. Advanced Radioisotope Power Systems (ARPSs)

  • Coated particle fuel compact (CPFC) for use in radioisotope heater units (RHUs) and general purpose heat sources (GPHSs)
  • Vapor anode, multitube AMTEC cells for ARPSs
  • SiGe/Skutterudites cascaded thermoelectrics for ARPSs
  • Energy conversion options for ARPSs
  • See publications on this topic

VII. Terrestrial Nuclear Power

VIII. Alkali-Metal Thermal-to-Electric Conversion (AMTEC)

  • Design, analysis and testing of multi-tube AMTEC cells for space and terrestrial energy applications
  • Design and performance of high-power AMTEC units for space reactor power systems
  • See publications on this topic

IX. Thermoelectric Converters

  • High temperature Skutterudites thermoelectrics
  • Segmented thermoelectrics
  • SiGe/Skutterudites cascaded thermoelectrics for ARPSs
  • Performance tests of Skutterudite and Segmented thermoelectric converters
  • See publications on this topic

X. Thermionic Converters

  • Development of grooved thermionic electrodes for high power density
  • Experimental testing and modeling of the operation of low pressure Cs-Ba tacitron with application to temperature and nuclear radiation power conditioning
  • See publications on this topic

XI. Heat Pipe Technology and Thermosyphons

  • Experimental and modeling of the transient operation of heat pipes including the start-up from a frozen state
  • Design, performance and operation limits of heat pipes, including the start-up from frozen state
  • Design and testing of low temperature heat pipes
  • Design, performance and operation limits of thermosyphons
  • See publications on this topic

XII. Boiling Heat Transfer

  • Boiling heat transfer experiments and correlations
  • Microlayer evaporation and its effect on nucleate boiling heat transfer
  • Flow visualization and high-speed bubble motion studies near critical heat flux
  • Effect of material properties and curvature on pool boiling from downward-facing curved surfaces in saturated and subcooled water
  • Boiling of dielectric fluids for electronic microchips cooling
  • See publications on this topic

XIII. Immersion Cooling of High-Power Electronics

XIV. Convective Heat Transfer

  • Convection heat transfer experiments and correlations
  • Natural convection and application to electronics cooling
  • Marangoni convection and phase-change in microgravity
  • Heat transfer in porous media and thermal energy storage modules
  • Application of laser interferometry to flow visualization and heat transfer in natural convection of air
  • Enhanced cooling using impinging and swirl air jets
  • Natural convection of air at high temperatures
  • See publications on this topic

XV. Radioactive and Mixed Waste Treatment

  • Interaction of colloids with gas/liquid interface
  • Chemical reversibility of chemical reaction between colloids and contaminants
  • Effect of pH and ionic strength on colloids stability
  • Plasma hearth process and application to the treatment of mixed, chemical and radioactive waste
  • Irreversibility of reactions between colloids and actinides at different cations concentrations
  • Effect of subsurface colloids on hydraulic characteristics of porous media
  • Applicability of filtration theory and correlations to shallow subsurface transport of colloids
  • Attachment kinetics of colloids to gas bubbles in subsurface environment
  • RF plasma for decontamination of transuranic elements
  • See publications on this topic

XVI. Dynamic Energy Conversion

XVII. Flow in Microchannels and Microtubes/Microfluidics

IVIII. Shielding Solar Energetic Particles

  • Interactions of High Energy Solar Protons with Potential Shielding Materials
  • Displacement Damage Dose in Silicon with Different Shielding Materials
  • See publications on this topic

XIX. Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) Plants

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Recent Publications

Below are our ten most recent publications. You may view the rest by browsing our publications
by year, by author, or by topic.

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