>> Former POWER SET Student Set to Receive Master's Degree in Nuclear Engineering from Texas A&M
Former POWER SET Student Set to Receive Master's Degree in Nuclear Engineering from Texas A&M
August 12, 2016
Long before she was preparing to defend her thesis on surface
plasma nitriding of fuel cladding materials, Elizabeth Castanon
joined a new organization her senior year at Palacios High School
called Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for
Science, Engineering and Technology (POWER SET).
"The POWER SET group came at a time when I really didn't know
what I wanted to do," Castanon said. "I don't know where I would be
without them showing us what engineering was all about."
POWER SET was founded by the Texas A&M Engineering
Experiment Station's (TEES) Nuclear Power Institute and the South
Texas Project Electric Generating Station to encourage high school
girls to pursue futures in STEM related fields.
Castanon credits the group, which takes students on facility
tours, brings in guest speakers and shows opportunities available
in STEM fields, with helping her find her focus as she neared the
end of high school. "It's definitely had an impact on getting girls
interested in engineering," she said.
After deciding she wanted to be an engineer, she considered
going to Texas A&M University, but received a scholarship from
Texas A&M University-Kingsville. There she received
simultaneous dual bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering and
physics before moving on to graduate studies in nuclear engineering
at Texas A&M, where she received a fellowship to work in
nuclear engineering associate professor Dr. Lin Shao's lab.
Castanon had an interesting route to her fellowship work. At
A&M-Kingsville she assisted physics professor Dr. Wayne
Kinnison in piecing together a particle accelerator. She said the
accelerator hadn't been used in more than 30 years, and they
restored it to working order. Kinnison moved to Texas A&M as a
research scientist at NPI and told Shao about some of the work that
Castanon had done with him in Kingsville. As a result, Shao
nominated her for the fellowship.
Shao's group studies materials as they relate to nuclear
engineering, and Castanon's thesis studies the effects of nitriding
materials as opposed to plating or vapor deposition.
"Nitriding is just implanting nitrogen into the surface of
whatever metal you have," she said. "If that metal makes a nitride
then you can form this compound that enhances a lot of the surface
properties. But since it's only on the surface it doesn't change
the core properties of the material. And since it forms inside
whatever material you have, it's near the surface but it's inside,
so it probably won't just come off. That's what we're looking at
inside the lab."
She's already accepted a position at the South Texas Project
after graduation. Looking back, Castanon said that as hard as it is
to believe, she's mostly stuck to a 10-year plan she had coming out
of high school.
"I actually did have a 10-year plan to go to school, get my
master's and go work at STP," she said. "That's what I said I was
going to do at the beginning. There's been times I thought about
doing something else, but that's the way it's worked out."
When she told her parents that she had gotten a job at the
nuclear plant, she said they could not have been more excited.
"My family was very supportive from the moment I said I wanted
to be an engineer," she said. "They were also very excited when I
said I was going to work at the South Texas Project. My dad said it
was a dream come true."
Castanon has 12 brothers and sisters, and said that she hopes
she is a good example for them, but also for other students from
She also takes particular pride in being from the Palacios area.
Her family lives inside a 10-mile radius of the South Texas Project
nuclear facility, and she said she gets to be an example of the
positives of nuclear power and research. Still, she does like to
have a little fun when people ask her about it.
"I always joke with people that I grew up near there and I don't
have three arms or three eyes and it's okay," she laughed. "But
most people I deal with are younger and have an open mind about
high school,students,POWER SET