International Thorium Energy Conference 2018 in Brussels

Last week was a special week. As part of the Thorium Energy World organisation, I got to participate in the international Thorium Energy World Conference 2018. It was a 3 day conference held at the Natural Science Museum in Brussels. Since I got involved in the creation of a course on the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor,  I have been following the development of the MSR technology.  In brief, the conference included talks and discussions from startup companies and scientists working to make the MSR a realisation.  The most inspirational was the possibility to casually talk to the MSR experts while having dinner in the evenings. I am not shy, so I asked all the questions that came to mind. In one word: awesome!

Besides the MSR experts, there were many like-minded, people with a genuine interest in the MSR, at the conference. I got to connect with different people, ranging from undergraduate students to people with many years of work experience. It was really fun and it uncovered some initiatives which promotes the MSR and nuclear energy and was unknown to me before. I thought I’d share some of these with you.

  • The European Nuclear Young Generation Forum brings students and young professionals of the European nuclear industry together in big events.  Next event is to be held in June 2019 in Ghent, Belgium:
  • The Thorium MSR Foundation is a dutch organisation with the aim to educate people about the use of thorium in molten salt reactor technology.
  • Progrès Nucléaire, a french organisation promoting nuclear energy:
  • Fission Liquide, a grass-root organisation promoting MSRs:

I published my first research article!

Hallelujah, after about 2 years of work I published my first research article. You can enjoy it here

In the process of writing the article I learned a lot, e.g. from my colleagues and by reading articles in my field of research. Simultaneously to the writing, I took the course Academic Writing at Lund University. This combined environment really set off the development of my writing skills. I would here like to share with you some of the things I am taking with me.

One example is the model CARS  – Creating A Research Space. The model consists of three so called moves which can serve as a guide in writing the introduction to a research paper. You can read about the moves in the link above. Besides facilitating the writing of the introduction, the model can in a more general sense help defining a research project. I found it really useful.

As fiction, scientific articles is a type of writing genre. This became clearer and clearer over time. For instance, I learned that a certain language is used (this might seem obvious), the use of tense can have large effect on what is meant and writing in an active or a passive voice has its purpose.

Lastly, I came across some links that can be helpful in the writing process:

  1. General advice on academic writing:
  2. Academic phrase-bank – when you are in need of some inspiration:


China is going ‘all-in’ on Thorium Molten Salt Reactors

At the moment, China is the country in the world that invests the most on nuclear energy. They currently have 17 nuclear power plants under construction, which is huge in comparison to India which comes in second with 7 plants in construction [].  It is not just any type of reactors either, just a week ago the first AP1000 reactor, a generation III+, first of its kind, reached its full power [Chinese-AP1000-reaches-full-power-operation].

A lot of money also goes into research on new nuclear technology. Recently Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) published promotional videos on their Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) project. With over 400 researchers, the Chinese are making rapid progress. It’s truly inspiring. Let’s hope more countries are to follow.

The chart of nuclides – Animation

For those of you interested in learning more about nuclear physics, I thought I’d share a pedagogic video. This animation visualises the chart of nuclides, which is the map of all nuclear species. In the video, some of the most important properties in nuclear physics are introduced. One such property is the magic numbers which are combinations of neutron or protons which display enhanced stability for the nucleus. The magic numbers are strongly connected to my PhD thesis. These are especially the predicted magic numbers of N=184 and Z~114-126 for superheavy nuclei which form the long-sought ‘Island of Stability’.

Synthetic fuel generation

The electrification of the transport industry is making progress, at least as it concerns cars. However, for trucks, transport on water, and air transport little have changed. Here fossil fuel is still the primary workhorse. It is clear that storing energy in chemical bonds is convenient and economical, while there evidently remain issues with battery storage.

With high temperature molten salt reactors it is possible to generate synthetic fuel, in a sustainable fashion. John Bucknell presents the technology and simultaneously explains how such a system can improve the nuclear plant economics in this video.

How to read input files: YAML

YAML stands for “Yet Another Markup Language (YAML) Ain’t Markup Language (YAML^2)”. Somewhat confusing it may seem. The aim of the project which started in early 2000s was first to create yet another markup language with a different syntax. The purpose later changed from just a pure markup language to data oriented and hence the YAML^2. One of the main focusses is user readability.

YAML’s approach is similar to XML and JSON, where parsing data in files into structures of the most common programming language is targeted. Actually, YAML is a superset of JSON, i.e. it allows JSON syntax. The language allows encoding of scalars (i.e. integers, strings etc), lists and associated arrays (cf. python’s dictionaries or hashes). What follows is the syntax of how scalars, list and associated arrays (in that specific order) are created in a .yaml file:

nbr_students: 2 

  - "A"
  - "B"

  Anne: "A"
  Danny: "A"

Note how easy it is to read and understand the content. And now observe how easy it is to write a c++ script (with yaml-cpp) and obtain the grade of student Anne:

#include "yaml-cpp/yaml.h"

YAML::Node file = YAML::LoadFile("test.yaml");
std::string annes_grade = file["student_grades"]["Anne"].as<std::string>(); 

From now on this is how I provide manual inputs to my analyses.



Jupyter Notebook documents are documents which contain both programming code and rich text elements such as links, equations, figures and movies etc. The most attractive feature of these documents is the ability to execute it and modify its content directly in the web browser. When it comes to presenting analyses, this tool becomes very powerful. In education and teaching, subjects which include coding can be taught more efficiently and jupyter enables a richer learning process. Furthermore, in research Jupyter Notebooks is a great opportunity to present detailed advanced analyses which can be accessed and easily followed by anyone. LIGO has done this with its gravitational wave data analysis.

As with all software, one needs to install and configure Jupyter Notebook prior to run and use it. Especially in the classroom such a process presents a significant barrier. With Microsoft Azure Notebooks it is possible to easily tunnel through that barrier and directly access and use the notebook. Alternatively, JupyterHub enables  a multi-user and host support of Jupyter Notebooks. With plotly and/or bqplot the plots will be astonishing and your notebook is complete.

As a teacher you will at some point realise that jupyter notebooks is a perfect tool for student assignments. When this occurs you will want to use nbgrader. It is an extension to Jupyter which guides you as a teacher to create, manage and grade assignments. Similarly, with GitHub Classroom larger coding projects including jupyter notebooks can easily be managed by the instructor.

At Lund University I am responsible for a laboratory exercise on gamma spectroscopy. To complete the lab the students are required to perform a data analysis independently. To facilitate this part of the exercise, I implemented a Jupyter-Notebook and it can be found here:

I acknowledge Erik Sundell for the expertise and inspiration.

PyNE – The Nuclear Engineering Toolkit

As a nuclear physicist you sometimes desire quick and easy access to a large amount of nuclear data. You find yourself searching the web for complete data sets of the specific property your interested in. If you find a data set, it might not be as complete as you wanted and above all it requires some proper file parsing to read in the data.

With PyNE your problems are solved. It is called a Nuclear Engineering Toolkit and provides a Python API where e.g. nuclear decay data based on ENSDF can be obtained.

The Superheavy Element Factory

In Russia, Dubna, a new facility is built purely dedicated to superheavy element research. Its name, “The Superheavy Element Factory”, speaks for itself, the objective is to synthesise new chemical elements.

The following video gets you properly introduced to the factory and also the current status of superheavy element research.

Meanwhile, we are developing the best particle-photon coincidence setup for the study of nuclear structure properties in the superheavy element region. The future is exciting!