Department History

Founding of UC Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering

August 24, 1958

Founding of UC Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering

Chancellor Glenn Seaborg founded the Nuclear Engineering Department at Berkeley. The faculty that year consisted of Professors Lawrence Grossman, Virgil Shrok, Paul Chambre, and Nathan Snyder.

Thomas H. Pigford

August 1, 1959

Thomas H. Pigford

Professor Thomas H. Pigford is appointed the department’s first chair in 1959. He served as department chair from 1959-1964, from 1974-1979, and from 1984-1988. Under Thomas Pigford’s guidance, the nuclear engineering faculty grew in number. Additionally, the PhD programs, lab facilities and experimental facilities all expanded. Student enrollment rises to more than 90 graduate students.

Glenn Seaborg, new chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, appoints Thomas Pigford to serve on Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

March 20, 1963

Hans M. Mark

August 1, 1964

Hans M. Mark

Professor Hans M. Mark served as department chair from 1964-1969.

TRIGA Reactor Becomes Operational

August 10, 1966

TRIGA Reactor Becomes Operational

The TRIGA reactor contract had been negotiated by a committee, including Lawrence Ruby, since 1963. It achieved a sustained nuclear chain in 1966.

TRIGA Reactor Usage

June 21, 2024

TRIGA Reactor Usage

The TRIGA reactor was widely used from the 1970s to the mid-1980s by the department of nuclear engineering for neutron kinetic studies, activation analysis of materials for a wide variety of Berkeley labs and industry, and fission-product retention by nuclear fuel. It was also used by nutritionists to measure trace elements in food, by archaeologists to date objects, and by NASA for high-altitude pollution studies.

California State Legislature Prohibits New Construction of Nuclear Plants

January 1, 1976

A new law passed prohibiting the construction of new nuclear plants until demonstrated technology for disposing nuclear waste exists.

Studies Initiated of Radioactive Material Transport

July 25, 1977

Paul Chambre, Thomas Pigford, and Visiting Professor Kunio Higashi initiate studies of radioactive material transport through geologic media for time spans of hundreds of thousands of years. Their theoretical techniques are used in the design of geological repositories in several countries.

Donald R. Olander

August 1, 1980

Donald R. Olander

Professor Donald Olander served as department chair from 1980-1984.

Nuclear Waste Policy Act Passed

January 1, 1982

Congress passes the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, establishing policy to manage high-level nuclear waste. The Department of Energy identifies nine potential sites, including Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Final Run of Berkeley’s TRIGA Mark III Reactor

December 23, 1987

Final Run of Berkeley’s TRIGA Mark III Reactor

On this day at 9:41 AM, professors performed the last run of Berkeley’s TRIGA Mark III reactor.

T. Kenneth Fowler

August 1, 1988

T. Kenneth Fowler

Professor T. Kenneth Fowler served as department chair from 1988-1994.

Passive Safety Systems for Light Water Reactors

January 1, 1990

Per Peterson and Virgil Schrok develop passive safety systems for Light Water Reactors, a new generation of plants that operate by gravity-driven processes.

Radionuclide Analysis

March 1, 1990

Joonhong Ahn’s analysis of how radionuclides, such as plutonium and neptunium, behave and migrate through geologic formations over long periods is key to understanding the safety of repositories for spent fuel and high-level wastes.


January 1, 1994

Professor Jasmina Vujic, the first woman to join and later chair a top US university’s nuclear engineering department, designs and patents GTRAN2. This stands for General Geometry Transport Theory Code in Two dimensions, and is a new way to mathematically model neutron transport behavior inside a reactor core in complex geometries. GTRAN3 is completed one year later.

William E. Kastenberg

August 1, 1995

William E. Kastenberg

Professor William E. Kastenberg served as department chair from 1995-2000.

Advanced Fuel Cycles for Gen-IV Reactors

January 1, 2000

Professor Ehud Greenspan develops advanced fuel cycles for Generation-IV reactors using spent fuel to consume long-lived isotopes in nuclear wastes.

Per F. Peterson

August 1, 2000

Per F. Peterson

Professor Per Peterson served as department chair from 2000-2005, and again from 2010-2011.

Jasmina Vujic

August 1, 2005

Jasmina Vujic

Professor Jasmina Vujic served as department chair from 2005-2009.

DoNuTS Finds Funding

January 1, 2007

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security fund the DoNuTS (Domestic Nuclear Threat Security) project. This project, led by Professor Edward Morse, is developing new technology for detecting special nuclear material in cargo containers.

Blue Ribbon Commission

January 1, 2010

Professor Per Peterson is appointed to President Barack Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, a committee established to develop a comprehensive strategy on nuclear waste.

Karl van Bibber

August 1, 2012

Karl van Bibber

Professor Karl van Bibber served as department chair from 2012-2018.

Berkeley Rad Watch Team

April 1, 2014

Berkeley’s Radwatch Team led by Professor Kai Vetter, launches its air-monitoring system, which allows for nearly real-time viewing of natural airborne radioactivity. This first-of-its-kind system is aimed at helping the general public better understand background radiation.

Peter Hosemann

August 1, 2018

Peter Hosemann

Professor Peter Hosemann currently serves as department chair, since 2018.

4153 Etcheverry Hall, MC 1730 (map) University of California
Berkeley, California 94720

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