Lieven, Alessandro, Ying, Marlies. Engineers, biologists, ecologists, lawyers or entrepreneurs in the making. They are between 25 and 35 years old, and all of them chose to get involved in nuclear research. They all have the same motivation: to push the limits of knowledge even further and find solutions to the major technological and societal challenges of tomorrow. By way of a response to ever increasing demand, SCK•CEN set up the Academy for Nuclear Science and Technology in 2012 to provide a much wider and diversified range of training courses. Three years on, student numbers have almost doubled and the 100th PhD diploma was surpassed this year.
Every year, SCK•CEN is attracting increasing numbers of students and professionals from all around the world to hone their scientific knowledge of nuclear technology, materials, radiation protection, waste management, dismantling or radioecology. "The unique facilities and a large number of areas of research here provide me with solid experience to address the challenges faced by the sector", says Alessandro Marino, who graduated in September 2015. "The nuclear phase-out in certain countries will require expertise in dismantling of the installations. The MYRRHA project also provides solutions for the two major problems of nuclear waste management and production of radioisotopes".
100th PhD diploma in 2015
Of the 104 PhD graduates, almost half secured employment with SCK•CEN to pursue some promising research. Nor does the other half take long to find jobs in a large number of sectors, such as medical research, like Marlies Gijs. "Research into radiation is essential in medicine for the purposes of developing new treatments against illnesses such as cancer".
Other students chose to put their experiences into practice and set up their own company. "After my PhD, SCK•CEN helped me to develop and to market my project", says Ying Cao. "Nuclear technology can bring about a large number of applications to move many domains forward such as medicine, space technology or waste management. All these developments that are vital to society require an undertaking on the part of several generations of researchers".
2015, a record year
In barely three years, the Academy for Nuclear Science and Technology has almost doubled its capacity. In 2012, 502 students and professionals were on courses, and no less than 858 by 2015. The same success story may be found in terms of those undertaking PhD studies, with numbers increasing every year thanks to a fruitful collaboration with the universities. Just over 200 PhD students have been registered by SCK•CEN since 1992, and 2015 looks to be a particularly promising year. "2015 is an exceptional year on more than one count", explains Michèle Coeck, head of the Academy and also a former PhD student at SCK•CEN. "The Academy has taken in 76 students as interns, 47 in connection with their theses and has also accepted more than 20 new PhD applications, an all-time record. We surpassed our 100th PhD graduation in 2015".
Italy, Brazil, Russia and Finland: some 150 applications for the PhD programme every year come from all over the world, and also from Belgium itself. About 40% of the PhD students currently at SCK•CEN are Belgian. "Belgium has exceptional expertise, and it is essential we pass this on to future generations", says Eric van Walle, SCK•CEN Director-General. "On our training courses and PhD programme, we want to maintain the necessary skills in Belgium and abroad, and move research forward to hone new technologies and applications that are vital to our society".
SCK•CEN Academy website: academy.sckcen.be