Feb. 16, 2010 — Construction is under way on the new Center for Advanced Engineering Research (CAER) facility in Bedford, Va. With a focus on nuclear energy research and distance education, the center aims to promote economic development in Virginia's Region 2000, an area consisting of the city of Lynchburg and Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties.
The University of Virginia Engineering School, along with other collaborators such as nuclear power company AREVA and Virginia Tech, proposed the research agenda for the center and also creation of the Center for Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy to be housed at CAER.
Funded with $7.6 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the 26,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in November.
The center supports Region 2000's economic development mission by facilitating engineering and science education, and technology development, as opposed to a more traditional model of providing capital, tax incentives and buildings for industry.
"CAER is creating a research-university environment in Region 2000," said Bob Bailey, the center's executive director. "We are creating an environment where research and development lead to innovation, which then leads to economic development."
The research center housed at CAER will focus on nuclear energy research and development, and associated workforce development in the region. The center's nuclear power plant control-room simulator for research in nuclear safety is of particular interest to nuclear power companies such as AREVA and Babock & Wilcox in Region 2000.
While it's common for nuclear power plants to have control-room simulators based on the specific type of reactor they use, the center's control-room simulator is the first that can be configured for multiple, next-generation reactor designs.
"This control room will allow us to explore the human/machine interface while addressing the safety and security of nuclear control systems," said Barry Johnson, associate dean of research at the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Johnson sees the center supporting a range of important research initiatives of the school, while also supporting the nuclear industry.
"The fundamental research being conducted at U.Va. and Virginia Tech will be funneled through CAER as an applied research center and ultimately produce commercially viable technologies in the field of nuclear energy, especially for nuclear safety," Johnson said.
According to Johnson, examples of other research activities will be wireless sensor technology and advanced materials to support the nuclear industry. There are also plans to pursue research in the area of "smart grid" technologies.
To gain funding for these initiatives, Johnson and the center's collaborators have submitted proposals to organizations such as the Virginia Tobacco Commission, U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.
On the education side, the center continues to serve as a "receive site" for the Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program — a distance learning graduate education program for U.Va., George Mason University, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech. The facility will also support the U.Va.-led Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia distance education program, which allows students to earn four-year engineering undergraduate degrees from U.Va. while remaining in their communities. This facility will address an important challenge in distance engineering education by providing laboratory space for students completing research projects as part of the program.