When Katia Paramonova left for Moscow, she had no idea that she would be using spy-proof technology from the Cold War – or that she would change her career.

The lab

In a cutting-edge lab at the National Research Nuclear Institute MEPhI, MIT junior Katia Paramonova used 30+ year old machinery in her work for the fusion ITER reactor (constructed in France.) While the scanning electron microscope was ahead of its time, Katia used old technology that, she was told, no spy would be able to rebuild. “Coming from MIT, I was a bit taken aback at first.”

Katia created strips to be used as the "glue" in welding bronze and beryllium in the first wall of the ITER reactor. She participated in the weighing of the elements that were then molten together into the alloy creating the thin, fast quenched ribbon by melting the alloy and quenching it on a spinning copper cylinder. Katia studied the properties of the alloy with varied amounts of phosphorus using hardness testing, scanning electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography and thermo-grams.


As a result of her work, Katia (along with her research group) presented a paper at the Second IAEA-ITER Technical Meeting on Analysis of ITER Materials and Technologies on December 13, 2012 in Gandhinagar, India. She also presented this research at an American Nuclear Society Conference.

Beyond MIT

After her summer in Russia, Katia felt fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct research using Soviet-era machinery, something that she said would not have been possible at MIT or anywhere else. “I found the old machinery was very reliable because it avoided the superfluous accessories that most cutting-edge technology has and causes it to malfunction. The experience taught me that sometimes old yet simple trumps new and complicated.” Her Russian colleagues’ strong theoretical backgrounds provided a new perspective that challenged Katia and that she says will carry with her throughout her career.

  • Russia
  • Internship
  • Nuclear