Nuclear Engineer. Clean Energy Visionary. Queen of Possibility.
Dr. Leslie Dewan is a nuclear engineer and conservation technologist based in San Francisco, CA. After receiving her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT with a research focus on computational nuclear materials, Dewan and a classmate went on to found a nuclear engineering firm. Transatomic Power was the darling of the industry for more than five years, as it reimagined a 1960s design for a molten salt reactor so that it could run on nuclear waste from previously spent nuclear fuel rods—waste, in other words. In this brilliant move, she got inches from solving the two biggest problems with nuclear energy: the risk of meltdown from conventional reactors (the molten salt version cools itself upon failure) and the proliferation of nuclear waste (since conventional designs use only about 5% of the fuel contained in each rod). Leslie and her team raised millions from venture capitalists, successfully lobbied for updated nuclear policy, and made an astonishing run at the design before realizing they wouldn’t be first to market, so they pivoted. Rather than hoarding the data—as is typical in the scientific field—Leslie and her partner did something truly revolutionary: they open-sourced it for the world’s benefit. As Leslie says, “I became a nuclear engineer because I wanted to save the world.”
For her body of work, Leslie has been awarded an MIT Presidential Fellowship and a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. She is a member of the MIT Corporation, and serves on the Board of Trustees for MIT—the youngest Trustee ever when she was asked to join. She was named a TIME magazine "30 People Under 30 Changing the World," an MIT Technology Review "Innovator Under 35," a Forbes "30 Under 30,” a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
Leslie believes nuclear energy alongside renewables are the answer to a carbon-neutral future. In support of this she founded and runs a venture firm, Criticality Capital, which invests in novel nuclear technology, carbon-free energy production, and sustainable infrastructure development. She is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Nuclear and Quantum Engineering at KAIST, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
In addition to her Ph.D., Leslie holds B.S. degrees from MIT in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering. Before starting her Ph.D. program, Leslie designed search-and-rescue robots, and equipment for in-field identification of chemical and nuclear weapons. We think she’s one of the best and brightest minds working today.
Save the World with Nuclear Power
The world needs a cheap, carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels to feed its growing electricity demand. Nuclear power can be a good solution to the problem, but is hindered by issues of safety, waste, proliferation, and cost. But what if we could go back in time and try a new approach to nuclear power–one that solves these problems?
Worldwide, there is a renaissance of nuclear technology development – a new generation of young engineers are racing to develop more advanced nuclear reactors for a better form of power generation. In some cases, they are adapting and improving reactor designs from the earliest days of the industry, and using them to solve modern problems. The road to commercialization is long, and poses many challenges, but the benefits are enormous as we collectively push the boundaries of technology to allow for better, safer ways to power the world.
Photos: courtesy Leslie Dewan