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Robert Petroski

Robert Petroski

Nuclear Innovation Engineer

Q: What's the most interesting project you've worked on at IV?
Definitely our traveling wave reactor project.  We’ve got a really talented team of engineers and scientists exploring a new area of reactor design space. A lot of innovative ideas have come out of this team.

Q: How is working at IV different from previous work you've done in your field?
Compared to my past academic work, the most exciting thing about working here is the real possibility that the systems we’re modeling and designing will be built all around the world one day.  That’s a big deal in the nuclear energy field, where reactor projects are generally very expensive and take a long time to happen.

Also, in academic research, one typically focuses on one or two aspects of a particular system, while at TerraPower we need to pay attention to all aspects together to create a system that can actually be built in the real world.

IV brings together people of all different backgrounds to tackle significant problems.  With complex systems like nuclear reactors, no one person is able to design every aspect of it on their own.

Q: In what ways have you had an opportunity to grow new skills?
On the technical side, I’ve gained new skills from working with the diverse group of experts at our company.  I’ve also had the opportunity to make high level presentations, give interviews, mentor interns, and lead my own projects, which has been great for developing my professional skills.

Q: Comment on the latitude we're given as employees to be creative thinkers/problem solvers.
Every employee is encouraged to spend part of their time at work on projects of their own choosing.  It’s one of the major reasons that I chose to join IV four years ago, and why I still enjoy my job so much today.

Q: What three things do you do to help IV accomplish our mission of being the leader in the business of invention?
Part of my job is to help develop new technologies, both for the traveling wave reactor and for nuclear energy in general, and that involves a lot of inventive collaboration with the other engineers at TerraPower. 

I also enjoy occasionally participating in IV invention sessions, which allow me to apply my nuclear-engineering skills to non-nuclear topics and, more importantly, to learn from the knowledge and insight of IV’s other scientists and inventors.

Q: How do you see IV's values play out on a regular basis? 
Just the idea of a startup nuclear reactor design company is an example of pioneering spirit, because this is a field that’s changed relatively little since its inception decades ago. 

Our approaches to problem solving draw heavily on both knowledge from past reactor design and operating experience, as well as inventiveness made possible by our modern computations tools.  Overall, we’re motivated by our passion to really make a difference in energy and the environment.

Q: Which value do you need to embrace most in your job and why? Which value inspires you the most in your job and why?
I would say pioneering spirit for both.  The challenge we face is huge: to make nuclear energy significantly cheaper and safer in a way that’s never been done before.  To take on that challenge requires a certain amount of pioneering spirit.  At the same time, I would say being part of something new is definitely the most exciting part of my job. 

Q: Describe the fulfillment/satisfaction you get from being pioneers in the field of nuclear technology.
The best part is the freedom to explore any number of promising technologies.  There’s no known answer for which technologies will make nuclear energy a more ideal energy source, and any one of the ideas we’re working on could end up having a major impact.  As a company we’re very serious about our mission, so we’re not going to stop and be satisfied with just one or two innovative ideas or reactor concepts. 

Q: What variables exist within IV that make it the breeding ground for game-changing ideas?
IV brings together people of all different backgrounds to tackle significant problems.  With complex systems like nuclear reactors, no one person is able to design every aspect of it on their own.  A skilled team with effective communication is needed to turn such systems into a reality. 

As technology advances, it will become more and more important to put together a broad group of experts to push ideas forward.