Anthony Belvin: trailblazer at DOE’s office of nuclear energy
Growing up, he loved math, science and rocketry. This accomplished engineer and past Fellow is now giving back as a power player in future space exploration
'I’ve been hooked on rocketry ever since I saw my first shuttle launch,” says Anthony Belvin. “And when I saw the connection with math and science, I was sold on them too.
“I attended a magnet school that really taught me about the scientific method. Because of that experience, I love being in a lab and experimenting. And my mom and dad always encouraged me.”
Belvin grew up in Atlanta, GA. In 1997, he received dual undergraduate degrees in general science and mechanical engineering from Morehouse College and Georgia Tech, both in Atlanta.
In 1999, he earned his MSME from Howard University (Washington, DC) as a GEM Fellow. GEM, the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, works to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in postgraduate studies in engineering and science.
Belvin got his doctorate in 2005 from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee). That year, he received an offer to join the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN as a senior technical staff member. “I was responsible for developing sensors that are used to ultrasonically evaluate weapon systems nondestructively – without having to take them apart. It’s the same technology used to see babies in the womb but obviously in a very different way,” he says. This intrigued him. “I always wanted to know about the philosophy behind these technologies,” he says.
Through a colleague, Belvin heard about the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, Washington, DC), an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world. Dr Stephanie Adams, who is currently the chair for the engineering education department at Virginia Tech, had been a AAAS science and technology policy Fellow. “She told me the organization takes engineers and scientists who are recently out of a graduate program, brings them to DC, and shows them how policy affects technology and vice versa. I thought this would be something I’d be interested in, so I applied and was accepted in 2010.”
Coordinating the next gen of space exploration
Today Belvin works in the office of nuclear energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). He’s the program manager for space reactor research and development in the office of space and defense power systems. His projects are collaborations with NASA and DOE. He is also coordinating an interagency working group to address space transportation needs for future U.S. and international missions. His early interest in rocketry makes the work especially exciting.
“We’re developing the next generation of propulsion systems that will use nuclear energy to get to Mars and other deep space missions. We’re developing a new type of rocket engine that uses only small amounts of radioactive materials like uranium and plutonium. It’s cutting-edge technology that represents a joint effort with two NASA centers. My job is to coordinate what NASA wants to do with the appropriate people at DOE to make that happen.”
Fellowships and vital experience
“I have a varied background,” Belvin explains, “that includes computational science, mechanical engineering and materials engineering.”
He has held two AAAS fellowships, and says they have expanded his skill set. “In the first, I was working in DOE in the office of nuclear energy. In fact, I was their first AAAS Fellow. Instead of focusing on one area of DOE, I was able to rotate through several different organizations.”
Belvin worked in the light water reactor sustainability group, which develops the science to ensure long-term reliability, productivity, safety and security of the current fleet of all U.S. nuclear reactors. He also served in the office of policy integration and communication. Finally, he worked in the office of space and defense power systems, which recently developed the power systems for the Mars Rover.
Belvin is proud of his accomplishments at DOE. He resolved management and technical issues related to the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG), which led to a management restructuring of the ASRG program. He provided recommendations to senior staff during the Fukushima incident following the tsunami in Japan. He also contributed to congressional testimony for senior DOE-NE representatives.
In 2012, he decided to reapply to AAAS. Belvin was selected by the Department of Defense (DoD) because of his nuclear background. At DoD, Belvin was a science and technology policy advisor in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, in the office of nuclear matters. “I was working on how we secure our arsenal of nuclear weapons and those of our allies. We also looked at technologies to combat nuclear terrorism.”
He finished his fellowship at DoD in July 2013. “Now I’m back at DOE as a fulltime federal employee,” Belvin says, “doing work that harks back to my fellowship experience in the office of space and power defense systems working on ASRG.”
Belvin appreciates his experiences as a Fellow. “As a Fellow, you get to see things from a global perspective,” he says. “Fellows are considered consultants and subject-matter experts that organizations bring in for their expertise in a particular area. They are conduits between policy and technology, helping to make these two interact to get things done. It’s a very rewarding experience, and different than being a fulltime federal employee.
“But,” remembers Belvin, “as a Fellow, I couldn’t do anything that would be considered inherently governmental. I could not represent DOE at a meeting. I could attend the meeting but I couldn’t say what our agency would do. I gave my comments to a fed and that person would turn around and say what we’re going to do. Now, as a federal employee, I can say it myself,” he smiles.
Belvin is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (Alexandria, VA), the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (Warrendale, PA), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (New York, NY), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Washington, DC), and the Society of Automotive Engineers (Warrendale, PA).
Belvin would eventually like to return to academia to teach. He would also like to start his own consulting firm in some STEM field. Or perhaps do both.
“It’s all kind of come full circle for me,” he believes. “I was a Ronald E. McNair NASA Fellow when I was getting my undergraduate degree. I was a NASA Fellow at Howard when I was getting my masters degree, and part of my PhD was paid for by NASA as well.
“In my mind, what I’m doing now is a way to give back to NASA for all those years they paid for me as a student; to develop the next generation of space systems, and get probes to go deeper into space.”
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