Atomic Fission Fun with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago

by Lenka Kollar

On Saturday, January 25, 2014, members of the American Nuclear Society’s Chicago Section organized and participated in “Atomic Fission Fun,” an event for Girl Scouts to learn about nuclear science. Sixty middle school students from the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana traveled to the Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Wheaton, Ill., to participate.

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The daylong event included an introduction to nuclear science along with the following breakout sessions:

  • Half-Life and Medical Uses of Radiation
  • Radiation Uses and Dose Counting Experiment
  • Nuclear Energy and Fission
  • It’s Your Planet—Love It!

The Girl Scouts rotated around the sessions, each one including an educational presentation and fun hands-on learning activity. The pictures below are of the fission game. The students all get balloons, blue for neutrons and red for protons. They are put into groups to act like nuclei. One student starts as the “neutron generator” and throws blue balloons at the nuclei. If the students are hit, they are instructed to break apart and throw their neutrons at other nuclei, and so on. Some students also act as “control rods” and try to steal blue balloons to control the reaction. This game teaches the students how fission and the chain reaction work in a manner that they can understand.

The Fission Game begins

Nucleus about to break apart

Neutrons appear to be escaping reactor core

A neutron appears to be escaping reactor core

After the breakout sessions, the Girl Scouts stayed with their groups and played Jeopardy, with clues on topics that they learned throughout the day. It was amazing to see how much knowledge the students retained. The students even said that the final Jeopardy question was “too easy.” It’s a great day for nuclear science outreach when young women are expounding on what gamma rays and uranium atoms are.

The Girl Scouts walked away with the new ANS patch and knowledge on nuclear science concepts. The ANS volunteers from Argonne National Laboratory, Exelon Nuclear, and Nuclear Undone were also able to tell the students about their careers. We hope that the event made the Girl Scouts more excited about science, uses of radiation, and nuclear energy.

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The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana organization is encouraging more young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math fields and has numerous STEM programs in the Chicago area.

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ANS volunteers (left to right): Natalie Zaczek, Jill Fisher, Jeff Dunlap, Candice Schmidt, Kirsten Laurin-Kovitz, Laural Briggs, and Lenka Kollar

ANS volunteer J'Tia Taylor and friends

ANS volunteer J’Tia Taylor and friends


Lenka_Kollar_Portrait_120x150Lenka Kollar is the Owner & Editor of Nuclear Undone, a blog and consulting company focusing on educating the public about nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues. She is an active ANS member, serving on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Technical Group Executive Committee, Student Sections Committee, and Professional Women in ANS Committee. Connect with Lenka on LinkedIN and Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Atomic Fission Fun with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago

  1. Lenka Kollar

    Thanks Meredith!

    Mitch, the goal of the workshop was to teach the girls about nuclear science and radiation and not necessarily for them to become “pro-nuke.” It’s hard for us to know how much they retain about nuclear science after the event but there was one girl that had attended last year and came back this year, bringing along her friends. She knew all of the answers to the questions in our presentation and eagerly raised her hand to answer. So, we know that at least one student retained something!

  2. Mitch

    Big question is will those girls still be as nuke cheerful outside the Scouts and back in the classroom and front the TV where all they hear is nuclear is bad and harmful? Would they raise their hand in class and say they’re pro-nuke? That’s when you really know programs like this “stick”.

  3. Meredith Angwin

    What a great idea! I hope more ANS sections do something like this.

    I remember that I did a science fair project on nuclear energy in 6th (?) grade. It was extremely primitive. I remember painting a round Quaker Oats box gray and that represented the reactor, and I believe I had another such box to represent the turbine. The second box was sideways, of course, and the hardest thing I had to do was set it up so it wouldn’t roll. I think I tacked it to a piece of posterboard. You see what I mean by primitive! But it taught me something about nuclear energy and it was fun to do.

    If a bunch of people who really knew something about nuclear energy had come to the school…that would have been so great!

    Glad you did this! We need more events like this one!

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