Brian Woods (left) is the new NSE school head.
Sunday, May 31, 2020

Brian Woods will take the reins at the Oregon State University College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, in the conclusion of a rigorous search process. His appointment as head starts July 1.

Woods, professor of nuclear science and Henry W. and Janice J. Schuette Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics, brings decades of experience in the nuclear industry and academia. He joined the Oregon State faculty as an assistant professor in 2003, rising to the rank of full professor in 2014. From 2015 to 2016, Woods served NSE as associate school head. 

Prior to academia, Woods worked as a diver for the U.S. Navy, as an engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Restoration, and as an engineer at Dominion Energy’s Innsbrook Technical Center outside Richmond, Virginia. Woods’ varied experiences have shown him the value of collaboration, and he is committed to ensuring the success of faculty and staff as the school looks to the future.

“Bringing what I have learned to this new role as school head will help me be successful in developing collaborations between faculty and students, among faculty within the school, the college, and Oregon State, and with our external industrial and academic partners,” Woods said. “I want to make sure faculty and staff have everything they need to be creative and successful and that the systems we have in place are fully supportive of them.” 

Woods earned his doctoral and master’s degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, and his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Virginia. 

His current research interests are in the design and safety of small and intermediate modular nuclear reactors, and advanced fission and fusion reactor concepts. He has been the principal investigator at Oregon State’s High Temperature Test Facility since 2010. He still remembers the impact early mentors had on his future.

“I am most looking forward to working with junior faculty and helping them be successful in their academic careers,” he said. “When I was a new assistant professor, the mentors in my life were so important to my development as an academic.” 

Woods’ appointment was met with enthusiasm from Wade Marcum, Henry and Janice J. Schuette Professor in Nuclear Science and Engineering and interim associate dean for undergraduate programs.

“The role of head is exciting under Brian’s leadership,” Marcum said. “There’s an opportunity to steer the school in new directions that tap the potential of the faculty.”

With long-term industry startup partnerships close to coming to market, like NuScale Power and Northwest Medical Isotopes, Woods is well situated to continue the efforts of outgoing head Kathryn Higley, who has served in the position since 2010. 

“My tenure has been bookended by two global events — the Great Recession, and now the COVID-19 pandemic,” Higley said. “NSE was able to navigate the recession thanks to the focus and commitment of its faculty. I believe those lessons will help my very able successor to persevere as well.”

As head, Higley added faculty expertise in forensics, safeguards, and nuclear materials, building on NSE’s traditional strengths in thermal hydraulics, systems design, and radiation protection. The school also developed the nation’s top radiation health physics program (including online offerings): It is No. 1 in the U.S. by number of graduates. 

She also oversaw reclamation of lab and facility space in the Radiation Center, which continues with the upcoming move of many faculty and graduate students to a newly renovated Merryfield Hall. This gives the school capacity to fully support faculty and students in their research and hands-on learning. 

“I was lucky enough to be hired by Kathy,” Marcum said. “She’s been inspirational and visionary as school head.”

In 2019, Woods received the College of Engineering’s Loyd F. Carter Award. The junior and senior classes vote for this honor, which recognizes exceptional and effective teaching. As head, he wants to ensure the school remains one of the best in the country.

“I want to continually look forward to see to it that in this quickly changing world our educational programs are responsive, rigorous and relevant, and that they provide maximum value for all of our students,” Woods said.  

— Meriden Vitale