When she’s not crushing her day job, she’s dominating escape rooms around the Midwest. Meet our incredible puzzle-solving, travel-loving, down-to-earth VP of Engineering, Tracy Radel!
Listen: It’s not every day you get to chat with a nuclear engineer and actually understand what the heck they’re talking about. But Tracy Radel makes complicated information simple enough for a child to comprehend. She’s been a part of building a large-scale fusion-driven medical isotope production facility from the ground up.
And so it’s not hard to see why Tracy was chosen by In Business Magazine as one of their 2023 Forty Under 40 honorees.
Tracy is responsible for the design and safety of the facility, and she makes regular presentations about the technology, construction status, and operation to regulatory commissions. Rightfully so, nuclear facilities go through a ton of review and audits to ensure the safety of the design, technology and space. Without Tracy’s help making the case for the safety and reliability of SHINE’s technology, it would’ve been an enormous struggle getting through the initial phases of growing a nuclear startup.
In her (rare) spare time, she raises money for charities close to her heart and finds her way out of complex escape rooms.
Learn more about the work Tracy Radel is doing in our Q&A below!
Tell us about your part in growing a brand-new nuclear facility:
Building a nuclear facility as a startup company is a huge challenge. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of building The Chrysalis facility from the ground up – including design, procurement, installation and construction. As the Design Authority for this facility, I hold ultimate responsibility for ensuring the design is safe for workers, the public, and the environment. I have built an engineering team that understands that safety is our top priority, works collaboratively to solve problems and develops the designs necessary to generate essential medical isotopes.
Clearly, building a nuclear facility isn’t for the faint of heart. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face along the way?
In my role, I encounter significant challenges on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Building a nuclear facility – including design, construction and licensing – is challenging on its own, but doing it during a global pandemic made every step of the process more difficult. For example, the pandemic disrupted the supply chain in many industries. In the nuclear space, products are held to extremely high safety standards, and there are limited vendors that we can use to source supplies. We need to be able to document exactly where materials came from, how they were handled and tested, and very specific safety characteristics.
Due to the restrictions in finding vendors producing materials at this level, SHINE started its own Commercial Grade Dedication (CGD) lab. This allowed us to take a commercial item and test it for critical characteristics that met the nuclear grade standards. With the supply chain issues during the pandemic, the CGD lab allowed us to determine whether we could fabricate something more quickly in-house and eliminate delays. This helped us maintain control of our timeframe, as well as ensure we met the standards necessary for quality.
What’s another project you’re proud of?
Earlier in my career, I got to be part of creating the launch safety report for a rover’s mission to Mars. Prior to SHINE, I worked at Sandia National Labs in the launch safety group. As part of that team, I performed the source term analysis for the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) mission. This was basically figuring out where the plutonium from the nuclear power source would land if the rocket exploded during the launch. We then wrote a report for the Department of Energy that went to the Office of the President and was used to determine whether or not the science of the mission was worth the risk. Although I had left the lab by that time, my former team invited me to join them at Cape Canaveral for the launch. Thankfully the results of my calculations were not needed and the Curiosity rover had a successful mission on Mars.
Tell us something you’re passionate about, outside of your professional career.
I have a number of community organizations I support, including local food banks, a local domestic violence shelter (DAIS), scholarship funds at Blackhawk Technical College and UW-Madison, and the American Heart Association (AHA). I am especially passionate about my support of the AHA, because of my family’s history with heart disease. There is a hereditary condition in my family called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It is what led to my aunt and uncle dying at 40 years old, my dad having a heart transplant at 50, and my brother having his first heart attack at 27. It is a big part of what drives me in my work to create a stable, domestic supply of Mo-99, which is primarily used for cardiac stress tests.
What is the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received, from whom, and how has it impacted your career?
A past mentor said to always take the time to reflect when things don’t go as planned, and to start with yourself. People often jump to blaming others first, but in any interaction or business challenge, there’s always something “I” could’ve done better. The things I do are also the only part of the situation that I really have control over. It’s important to understand what I could’ve done differently or how I could’ve handled something better to continue to grow. This advice has helped me try new strategies to get a better outcome. Learning to look inward has helped my business relationships and helped me build on past challenges to do better in the future.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to travel! So far, I have traveled to 15 countries and over 30 states. Most recently, we took a road trip from Yellowstone down to Carlsbad Caverns, stopping at other great national parks along the way. The variety of natural beauty you can find in just the U.S. is amazing to me.
Do you have a hidden talent that others may not know about?
I have done around 30 different escape rooms with friends and family, and I love the challenge of solving a brand-new puzzle. Escape rooms require critical thinking and attention to detail, all while being under a tight time constraint. Recently, we spent a weekend visiting Chicago and trying new escape rooms. The city has some of the best rooms around, and we had so much fun testing them out.