Nuclear engineers improve the world by harnessing the power of the atom. Working for the government and private research firms, nuclear engineers develop technologies that generate nuclear power and devices used in the medical field that scan bodies, making early detection of cancer and other diseases possible. Nuclear engineers must receive a bachelor's degree in engineering--nuclear, mechanical or chemical--to obtain employment, but the majority of jobs require a graduate degree, according to ScienceBuddies.org.
Nuclear engineering students take a variety of classes in the various sciences before acquiring their degree. Human physiology prepares students for determining the effects of radiation on the human body. Chemistry courses teach chemical reactions and the effects of those reactions on living matter. Courses in physics teach the mechanics of producing reactions and the consequences of reactions. A nuclear explosion is an example of manipulating atoms to produce a reaction, but manipulating atoms to a lesser extent produces energy.
Nuclear engineering students take many courses in math to obtain their degree. Math classes begin in high school with algebra, trigonometry and geometry. In addition, some colleges will require mathematics placement testing. The University of Tennessee, for example, requires that you pass a placement test before taking a calculus class to determine if your math skills are satisfactory. If they are not, you must take Math 130 before starting your advanced classes in mathematics. Along with calculus I, II and III, students must take differential equations and mathematical methods for engineers and scientists.
The majority of engineering students' classes are in engineering. Physics for engineers, engineering mechanics and computer solutions of engineering problems are a few of the engineering courses typically required. Courses specific to nuclear engineers include an introduction to nuclear and radiological engineering, thermodynamics, thermal science and nuclear reactor theory. Nuclear engineering courses prepare students for their field and include laboratories to provide hands-on experience.
Other Courses and Electives
Nuclear engineering students must take three hours each in economics and statistics. Eighteen hours of social science and humanities electives serve to round out a student's education and provides him with a wider view of the world than what he may already have. Speech, world history and political science courses, for example, can help a nuclear engineering student understand the implications of his work and provide him with the means to explain his work as it relates to the community and the world.
In 2009, there were 16,710 nuclear engineers in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They had an average income of $96,910 per year. The engineering services industry employs the most nuclear engineers, at around 2,800, although the federal government runs a close second, employing 2,190. Nuclear engineers working for these employers were making $114,840 and $94,740 per year, respectively, as of 2009. Consulting services pay the highest of any industry for nuclear engineers. Nuclear consultants were averaging $116,670 per year in 2009.