By Lenka Kollar
University student sections of the American Nuclear Society are very involved in reaching out to the public, including teaching young students about nuclear science and hosting public forums. With the resurgence of the nuclear energy industry, nuclear engineering enrollments at universities are increasing and thus ANS student sections are becoming more involved.
The most popular outreach activity is hosting a Boy Scouts Nuclear Science Merit Badge workshop. During this event, Boy and Girl Scouts visit the campus and complete the requirements for the badge with the help of ANS members. This usually involves some lessons on radiation and fission, followed by hands-on activities and facility tours. Student sections all over the country hold Boy and Girl Scouts workshops, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa State, Missouri S&T, North Carolina State, Purdue, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the University of New Mexico, the University of Texas-Austin and Permian Basin, Utah, Wisconsin-Madison, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, and others.
Student sections also visit local high school schools to teach young students in physics and chemistry classes about nuclear science and to give hands-on demonstrations. High school teachers often lack the technical background or equipment to teach these topics and therefore openly welcome ANS members into their classrooms. Students are taught about radiation through the use of Geiger counters and common radioactive items such as old lantern mantels. Students can also “see” radiation with cloud chambers. In addition, ANS student sections participate in teaching K-12 students at existing on-campus fairs about nuclear science. For example, both the Purdue and University of Texas-Austin sections participated in “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” on their campuses.
With the help of their university departments, many ANS sections give research reactor tours to students and the public. Research reactors are easier to access than commercial nuclear reactors and thus serve as a great learning tool. During these tours, people are able to learn about radiation and fission, and ANS members are able to clarify common myths.
After the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, many ANS student sections held forums to answer the public’s questions about the accident. Missouri S&T, Utah, UC-Berkeley, and many other schools held large public forums that were run by students. These outreach activities helped to calm public fear during and after the situation in Japan.
ANS student sections play an integral role in teaching the public about radiation and nuclear energy. In ANS’s effort to educate the public about nuclear science, remember to support your local student sections!
Lenka Kollar is a master’s student in nuclear engineering at Purdue University. She has been involved in Purdue’s ANS student chapter since 2006, and has been a national ANS member since 2009. At Purdue, Lenka established an extensive local nuclear science outreach program, including visits to high schools and a teacher workshop. She is also a member of the ANS Student Sections Committee. Lenka plans to graduate in May 2012 and is looking to start a career in nuclear energy policy and communications, preferably in the Chicago area.