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ACU NEXT Lab receives grant approval from Department of Energy

The NEXT Lab at Abilene Christian University has received a $120,000 budget renewal of the teams’ sponsored research award through Idaho National Laboratory, titled “Investigation of Instrumentation, Data Analytics, and Simulation Synergies for the Versatile Test Reactor.” This grant was initially awarded in August 2018 for $150,000 and represented the NEXT Lab’s first federal support.

NEXT stands for Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing. ACU students and faculty from several academic departments are working together to research the use of molten salt, rather than water, as a coolant for reactors.

The reactor will enable the NEXT Lab’s goal of finding global solutions to the world’s most critical needs, including clean, safe and inexpensive energy to help raise people from living conditions associated with extreme poverty; pure and abundant water; and medical isotopes for diagnosing and treating cancer. ACU’s NEXT Lab will advance the technology of molten salt reactors while educating the next generation of leaders in nuclear science and engineering.

Most salts, including ordinary table salt, melt at high temperatures and become a liquid that looks and acts much like water. However, molten salts do not boil until they reach extremely high temperatures, making them excellent heat-transfer fluids for use as a coolant for reactors. NEXT’s research has centered on developing the tools and expertise to melt, circulate and study salt at high temperatures. These advances have enabled it to be well prepared to collaborate with scientists and engineers from other institutions in developing a plan to build the first university research reactor to be cooled with molten salt.

The NEXT Lab and its molten salt test loop are housed in the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium, one of three science facilities constructed during ACU’s Vision in Action initiative.

Abilene Christian is the highest-ranking university in Texas in a 2020 U.S. News & World Report benchmark focused on student success. ACU achieved Top 20 status in three of eight high-impact categories among 1,500 universities evaluated for “A Focus on Student Success” and is the only Texas institution to be ranked in five of the categories. Learn more at


(From left) Joseph Swedlund, computer science major; Ben Longley, Harding University student interning with NEXT Lab; Dr. Rusty Towell, NEXT Lab director; Dr. Brent Reeves, associate professor of management science and computer science; Shon Watson, NEXT Lab research scientist; and Dr. Tim Head, associate professor and chair of engineering and physics.
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