The Georgia Institute of Technology chapter of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) recently hosted a nuclear science merit badge workshop for local area troops of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Faculty and undergraduate students from the Department of Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering helped the scouts work through various requirements to earn the nuclear science merit badge and provided hands-on educational lab experiences and classroom instruction on nuclear theory related topics. Nuclear engineering students and NRE assistant professor Anna Erickson helped coordinate the event and served as merit badge counselors for the scouts.
What started as a relatively small collaboration in the fall of 2013 has grown into a well-known Atlanta area event serving as many as 30 scouts per workshop. “Back in the initial day we started with a few lectures for Boy
Scouts and their parents,” says Erickson. “The highlight was what we called the Nuclear Easter Egg Hunt where students would visit the radiological science and engineering laboratory and use a detector to identify household items that are radioactive. That generated a lot of interest.”
Erickson, who directs the program’s educational labs, said the workshop allows scouts to tour the NRE/MP facilities and includes homework and education components designed to engage students. Students also get to experience a cloud chamber and physically see a nuclear track, an activity that participants really enjoy. “We are looking at ways to introduce an engineering component to the workshop where older students build their own Geiger-Müller detector. Not only can you learn about radiation – you can build stuff!”
Approximately 10 Georgia Tech NRE undergraduates, many of whom come from local Atlanta area schools and participated in the program as Boy Scouts themselves, helped the scouts with various requirements needed to complete the merit badge. “It’s extremely important that we don’t just educate students, but that we start early in high school,” explains Erickson. “I’ve always like the quote ‘Radiation is not intuitive.’ Just like many things in life, if you start early, learn how to handle it safely and not be afraid of it, it is much easier to grasp later. And that’s what we see with these students – they come in, their minds are wide open and they gain an understanding of it. Something is not dangerous if you know how to handle it.”
The nuclear science merit badge workshop is held once a semester and is also open to the public. The next workshop will be held this coming fall. Check out the Georgia Tech American Nuclear Society webpage for upcoming dates and details.