Category Archives: Science & Engineering Education

Topics that relate to secondary, undergraduate, and post graduate education in science and engineering.

Why I chose a nuclear career: video interviews

Today is designated Careers in the Nuclear Fields Day for National Nuclear Science Week! To kick off Nuclear Careers Day, several Chicago ANS Local Section members participated in video interviews to share what fascinates and excites them about their nuclear careers.

Explore a Great Career in Nuclear Energy

By John Wheeler

What better way to celebrate National Nuclear Science Week than to acknowledge amazing career opportunities that exist for people interested in joining the nuclear renaissance. If you are a middle or high school student (or are the parent of one) considering college alternatives, you would be hard pressed to find a better investment than earning an associates or bachelors degree in nuclear-related science, engineering, or technology.

Opportunities for entry level positions have not been this rich at any time during the past three decades, and the nuclear industry is partnering with many schools to ensure graduates have the knowledge and skill for success as power plant engineers, operators, and technicians. Because of a combination of national and international trends, there have never been more opportunities for young people to begin careers in the nuclear industry.

About 120,000 people are currently employed in the U.S. nuclear industry. Over the next several years, many of these workers will retire. As a result, the industry will need to hire more than 25,000 new employees just to maintain the existing workforce. The economic slowdown  over the past few years has caused many workers to delay their retirement.

Today retirements are once again on the rise because 401K balances have recovered and workers have earned additional credits in pension plans. For example, in 2011 about 2,000 workers retired from the 104 operating nuclear plants in the United States, prompting many utilities to increase hiring. Four new nuclear plants being built in Georgia and South Carolina will each add up to 2,400 workers during construction, plus 400 to 700 permanent jobs when each is operating. In addition, the nuclear industry is booming overseas with more than 60 plants under construction around the world and many more planned. All of this means ample opportunities for rewarding careers in many nuclear related fields.

The industry hires almost every type of engineer, not just nuclear engineers. The most common are mechanical, electrical, civil, and power systems engineers. Since there are engineering colleges and universities in every state that offer one or more of these degree programs, opportunities are plentiful. Earning a bachelors degree in these engineering majors opens the door to an entry-level engineer position with a starting salary of approximately $60,000 to $65,000.

Some of the positions in greatest demand at nuclear plants are power plant operators and technicians. These opportunities generally require an associate’s degree or equivalent training. Starting salaries range from around $45,000 per year to about $50,000. As workers gain experience, salaries can rise $20,000 or higher to an average of $65,000 to $70,000, and overtime pay often adds thousands more to annual income.

In the past, finding a college that offered education courses for future operators and technicians could be difficult, but this is no longer the case. Several years ago the industry began working with colleges across the United States to create new degree programs. Today there are more than 40 community colleges around the U.S. offering what is known as the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum (NUCP). The NUCP is a standardized associates degree program that prepares students for careers as nuclear operators and technicians. Students who earn a B grade or better in their core courses are awarded a transferable certificate that is recognized at all 104 nuclear plants.

For workers interested in advancing into leadership roles, these positions in engineering, operations, and other technical fields are excellent starting points for future management positions.

According to the College Board, the national average for community college tuition and fees is about $3,000 per year. Thus, for about $6,000 a student with a solid math and science background can attend an NUCP school for two years and earn an associates degree and a transferable credential. This would qualify them for an entry-level position as an operator or technician earning a starting salary of $45,000 to $50,000. This is certainly one of the greatest deals in education today!

More information on careers in the nuclear industry is available from the American Nuclear Society, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and at Get Into Energy.



John Wheeler is the Workforce Planning Manager for Entergy. He also is an American Nuclear Society member and, separately, is the producer of This Week in Nuclear, a podcast and blog about the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Full agenda for National Nuclear Science Week 2012

National Nuclear Science Week—a week-long celebration to focus local, regional, and national interest on all aspects of nuclear science—has nearly arrived! On January 23-27, events and activities will be held across the United States to recognize the benefits of nuclear science and technology and to introduce the next generation of  scientists and engineers to the applications of nuclear technologies to everyday life. The National Nuclear Science Week website serves as the clearinghouse for next week’s activities and is chock-full of great ideas for  how to learn, teach, and celebrate nuclear science and technology.

North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) recently held its 13th Annual “Roddy Nuclear” Drawing contest all over North America. Roddy Nuclear is a nuclear fuel pellet cartoon character who can fit into the palm of a child’s hand. Roddy provides as much energy as almost two-thousand pounds of coal and 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Check out the finalists at the Clean Air Energy blogsite—the winners will be announced during National Nuclear Science Week.

Tuesday, January 27, has been designated “Careers in Nuclear” Day. From technologists to engineers, radiologists to doctors of nuclear medicine, there are many fields associated with nuclear science. On January 27, a video featuring conversations with individual members of the Chicago ANS Local Section about why they were drawn to nuclear science and the fascinating aspects of nuclear careers will be featured on the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Below is a nuclear careers video currently featured on the careers page—and don’t forget to check out the nuclear careers materials at the ANS website.


The American Nuclear Society is proud to be a sponsor of Nuclear Science Day at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), on Wednesday, January 25. This full-day event features world-class nuclear experts in many fields of nuclear science and technology, explaining what it’s all about in live internet webinars and question-and-answer sessions for grades 5-12 (and other interested parties). ANS President Eric Loewen will participate and speak to students from six area high schools about nuclear careers. His presentation will be live-tweeted using the twitter hashtag #NNSW12.

To register for the webcasts, just visit the National Science Teachers Association Learning Center (a great all-around resource for science learning). For details on the Nuclear Science Day agenda, presenters, and all the information, check the Nuclear Science Day Press Release. About 1,000 classrooms will view the webcast throughout the day—representing more than 20,000 students and teachers across the United States.

If you can attend Nuclear Science Day at IIT in person on January 25, please come on out. Artistic individuals can peruse the latest in beautiful nuclear art that will be on display courtesy of Suzy Hobbs Baker of PopAtomic Studios. And for those who live in the fast lane—stop by to say hello to Simona de Silvestro (right), champion Indycar racer and 2010 Indy Rookie of the Year, and ask if you can take a spin in her Nuclear Clean Air Energy car #78!


The evening of January 25 will feature a National Nuclear Science Day webinar hosted by Excelsior College titled Women in Nuclear: Professional Organizations and Career Advancement. The event is part of Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology’s “Women in Technology” campaign and will feature representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority and NA-YGN, as well as Margaret Harding, one of ANS’s leading spokespersons during the Fukushima nuclear crisis this past March and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.  Visit the weblink above for more information, including how to register.

Are you participating in a National Nuclear Science Week event that is not mentioned here? Please add a comment and let us know. ANS members, don’t forget to report your efforts using the online form at the ANS website. Keep up-to-date on events and activities throughout National Nuclear Science Week by visiting the ANS Nuclear Cafe, the ANS Facebook page, and the ANS website, and by following ANS on Twitter.


National Nuclear Science Week and Nuclear Science Day!

It’s time to welcome the next generation of nuclear scientists, engineers, artisans, technicians, health professionals, and the myriad other nuclear experts of the future—and celebrate our remarkable nuclear science and technology achievements to date—with National Nuclear Science Week, January 23-27, 2012!

From curing cancer, to powering humanity’s reach for the stars, to helping maintain a cool, clean, green planet here at home, the world’s most powerful science and promising technology is well worthy of celebration and further exploration. A great place to start is the official National Nuclear Science Week website, loaded with information and ideas on how to learn, teach, and celebrate nuclear science and technology.

As part of the festivities, the American Nuclear Society is proud to be a sponsor of Nuclear Science Day at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Wednesday January 25. This full-day event features world-class nuclear experts in many fields of nuclear science and technology, explaining what it’s all about in live internet webinars and question-and-answer sessions for grades 5-12 (and other interested parties). To register for the webcasts, just visit the National Science Teachers Association Learning Center (a great all-around resource for science learning). For details on the Nuclear Science Day agenda, presenters, and all the information, check the Nuclear Science Day Press Release. About 1,000 classrooms will view the webcast throughout the day, representing more than 20,000 students and teachers across the United States.

If you can attend Nuclear Science Day at IIT in person January 25, please come on out. For those individuals of refinement and artistic sophistication, peruse the latest in beautiful nuclear art that will be on display courtesy of PopAtomic Studios. And for those who live in the fast lane—stop by to say hello to Simona de Silvestro, champion Indycar racer and 2010 Indy Rookie of the Year, and ask if you can take a spin in her Nuclear Clean Energy car #78!


Nobel Prize-Winning Secretary of Energy Steven Chu commemorates National Nuclear Science Week.

The evening of January 25 will feature a National Nuclear Science Day webinar hosted by Excelsior College titled Women in Nuclear: Professional Organizations and Career Advancement. The event is part of Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology’s “Women in Technology” campaign and will feature representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority and North American Young Generation (NA-YGN), as well as Margaret Harding, one of the American Nuclear Society’s leading spokespersons during the Fukushima nuclear crisis this past March and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe. For all the details, including how to register, visit the Excelsior College Eventbrite page.

Young People and Nuclear Power

By Meredith Angwin

What questions do young people have about nuclear power? Recently, Howard Shaffer and I had two opportunities to hear their questions for ourselves.

University students:  Our first interaction with students and their questions was at the University of Vermont (UVM), where we attended the showing of a film about nuclear power. The film was quite negative about the subject. However, not all the people in the room really cared that much about energy, as far as we could tell. Some students got extra credit for watching the film. The room held about 80 people and was filled to overflowing.

High school students: Our second interaction with students was a presentation at a charter high school in Massachusetts. The entire senior class at the high school is doing a cross-disciplinary project on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and energy. The class is small, about 40 students, and we spoke with them for about two hours. Both the assistant principal and the physics teacher also attended our talk. The students had already visited Vermont Yankee’s simulator facility, where they met plant operators and learned about running a power plant. Vermont Yankee staff told us  that they had been impressed with how thoughtful and knowledgeable the students were. At the end of the cross-disciplinary project, each student will write a position paper on whether or not nuclear power should continue to be used.

So, we met two diverse groups of students: One attending college, with no particular knowledge of nuclear energy, and one in high school, with quite a bit of knowledge of how a nuclear plant works. What were their questions? What questions were the same? How did they differ?

Below are my impressions.

The college questions

You can see a more complete list of college questions and answers at Howard Shaffer’s post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe:  Transparent Radiation, A Film

Some of the questions at the college were more position statements than questions. For example, I consider the question: “Why has no nuclear plant ever been denied a license extension?” to be a position statement against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a regulator, not an effort to find out about nuclear energy.

There were also questions about reactor fuel being made into weapons, the lawsuit involving Vermont Yankee, and the vulnerability of the Mark I reactor’s containment. These questions were a mixture of position statements and real questions, but mostly position statements.

We did get real questions, however. Disposal of used fuel was a big issue. People showed some confusion about what a half-life meant. Interestingly, we received questions on what were problems (externalities) caused by other methods of power generation. In the comment stream on my first blog-post about the film, you can see that the film-makers did not want to encourage comparisons with other types of power generation, except renewables such as tide power. Nevertheless, students asked the question: “If not nuclear, then what?”

The high school questions

Most of the student questions at the high school were addressed to Howard Shaffer, as a nuclear engineer.

The student questions were far more knowledgeable than those at UVM. This was to be expected, since the high school students were in the middle of a cross-disciplinary study unit on nuclear power. Most of the questions fell into two groups:

  • Questions about the future of nuclear power and jobs in nuclear power.
  • Questions about managing nuclear waste.

Some questions were very heartening—from young people interested in the future of nuclear power and considering a career in that field. Learning about nuclear power leads some people to an interest in working in the field!

Other questions were quite challenging. Instead of the agenda-driven questions at UVM (“weapons from nuclear power”), Howard and I were asked good questions at the high school. We were nailed to the wall if our answers were not complete enough! One young woman wanted a complete explanation of how vitrifying nuclear waste works. This sequence started with a question to Howard about handling the waste, and then, with follow-up questions, we were off and running with separation, fission product half-lives, and vitrification. She wanted to know what benefit that glass (i.e., vitrification) gave for spent fuel safety. Her questions were challenging and honest. She was not making position statements.

When all is said and done, I think that some of the high school students will write anti-nuclear position papers, but some will write pro-nuclear papers, and some will want to work in the industry. In my opinion, that is a good outcome. Visiting that class was a wonderful experience.

Implications for nuclear education

Howard and I will be going to more schools. It is very heartening to see education about nuclear subjects done well, as they were at the charter school. It is disheartening to see education done with an agenda, as it was at UVM. One problem with agendas is that people don’t need to learn many facts, as long as they have the agenda in place! But the contrast in knowledge levels between the two venues was quite striking. The high school students knew a great deal and the college students knew very little.

I think that we nuclear advocates sometimes assume that if nuclear energy issues are taught well, the advantages of nuclear will be clear to everyone. That is too optimistic. There will still be people who don’t like the idea of fission making their electricity. With a reasonable level of education, however, there will be fewer people disliking nuclear, and more people interested in working in nuclear science and nuclear power plants.

In short, education about nuclear energy is a winning strategy for the industry.


I would also like to reference two recent blog resources for high school nuclear education: National Nuclear Science Week – This Time, Next Month! at Atomic Power Review,  and  Resources for Nuclear Education in High Schools at Yes Vermont Yankee.



Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.
Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


The December 2011 ReActions newsletter is online!

ReActions is an information resource newsletter from the American Nuclear Society for teachers interested in the nuclear sciences. The new December issue highlights the upcoming National Nuclear Science Week (January 23-27) —along with online information sources for teachers using National Nuclear Science Week events to enhance classroom learning.

ReActions features some of the many ways that nuclear science and technology is important in everyday life and includes one of the many classroom group research activities available through ANS. This issue also spotlights National Engineers Week (February 19-25). Career opportunities abound in nuclear science and technology, and teachers will want to be sure to use the many ANS information resources available for their students.


David Pointer, chair of the ANS Public Information Committee, said, “ReActions is a great resource for K-12 science teachers to keep up-to-date on developments in nuclear science education, and the newsletter highlights hands-on activities that teachers can use in the classroom as well as ANS online educational resources and materials.”

Nuclear Art Update!

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

In the past week, two exciting new art-based initiatives in the nuclear sector have come to my attention. I am thrilled about both and want to share them with my fellow American Nuclear Society members.

First, the Wilmington ANS Section has announced an art competition based on nuclear energy education:

“Avenues to engage students in understanding the beneficial nature of nuclear energy and technology include opportunities for creative expression with the written word or visual art. While exercising creativity, the students will learn about the various attributes of nuclear energy, its role on their everyday life, and develop a context for understanding current events on energy policy, nuclear safety, and the tragic events in Japan. The Outreach Subcommittee is coordinating an activity that encourages students to explore nuclear energy by way of an essay contest and a visual arts contest.”

Two contests are planned. The first, an essay competition for high school-level students, has contestants develop their essays on the role that nuclear energy can play in making life better for people and their environment. The second, a visual arts contest, targets middle school-level students. These contestants can make their expressions through drawings, photography, sculpture, or other visual means as an interpretation of practically any aspect of nuclear energy.

I feel that this outreach activity is a fantastic model and hope that other chapters will consider conducting similar efforts in their respective communities. This is an effective way for the nuclear sector to connect with the local education system and build lasting relationships with students, teachers, and schools. The fact that they are offering cash prizes to the winning students doesn’t hurt, either!

The second exciting nuclear art initiative is by a new fine jewelry company called Fiçonel, which carries designs inspired by the “actual industrial design elements of nuclear technology.” Their women’s and men’s jewelry features “Assemblies” as necklaces, cufflinks, and pins.










On its website, the company further describes the goal of its work:

“At Fiçonel, we show the world the true iconography that represents decades of live-saving medical treatment and sustainable energy security. Wearing a Fiçonel design communicates these accomplishments in ways beyond what the technology alone can say.”

After seeing the website, I was banging my head against the wall, thinking, “Why didn’t I think of this?” Of course, I am really just happy that someone came up with this brilliant idea and is making beautiful, wearable, nuclear art. Here at PopAtomic Studios, we are wishing great things for the Fiçonel team. The more art happening in the nuclear sector, the better!

Lastly, for a little shameless self-promotion, PopAtomic Studios will be displaying selected photographs for National Nuclear Science Week at the Illinois Institute of Technology on January 25, 2012, and again on January 30–31 at the Women in Nuclear Region II Conference in Charlotte, N.C. If you are attending either of these events, make sure to stop by and say, “hello!”

Happy Holidays Everyone!













Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy. Hobbs Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

ANS Student Section outreach activities

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.

Boy Scouts at Purdue University

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.

Looking for alpha and beta particles

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.

Nuclear outreach at Purdue University

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.

2011 nuclear technology scholarships

The Mississippi Section of the American Nuclear Society is offering two $1000 college scholarships to Mississippi high school graduates or college undergraduates. Scholarship winners are chosen from state-wide applications.

The application deadline is May 1, 2011.

“Selection gets harder every year because of the high caliber of students applying,” said Ryan Doerr, ANS Scholarship chair. Doerr is a senior engineer in procurement engineering at Entergy’s national nuclear fleet headquarters in Jackson, Miss. This is the sixth year that the Mississippi section of ANS has offered scholarships that encourage student interest in nuclear science, technology, and related fields.

The ANS scholarships are awarded to Mississippi students who will be enrolled or are currently enrolled full-time in college courses in science, mathematics and/or technical areas. Recipients are chosen based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities, an essay, and letters of recommendation from counselors and teachers.

To apply for the scholarship and for more information, go here.

The Mississippi Chapter of ANS is located at the Entergy Nuclear national fleet headquarters in Jackson, Miss., and at Entergy”s Grand Gulf nuclear plant in Port Gibson, Miss., with membership from area health care and nuclear power professionals promoting the awareness and understanding of the application of nuclear science and technology.  The chapter’s website is here.

Established in 1954, ANS is a professional organization of scientists and engineers devoted to the applications of nuclear science and technology. Its 11 500 members come from diverse technical disciplines ranging from physics and nuclear safety to operations and power, across the full spectrum of the national and international nuclear enterprise including government, academia, research laboratories,  and private industry. The ANS website is here.

Chicago ANS gets National Engineers Week rolling

The Chicago local section of the American Nuclear Society launched  activities for National Engineers Week a day early on Saturday, February 19, by presenting a student engineering workshop. The event was hosted by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), the largest science museum in the western hemisphere. The workshop was part of a series in which high school science achievers learn about different science disciplines and career paths. The workshop included 26 high school students from across Chicago, an MSI education coordinator, and two adult MSI volunteers.

The workshop was featured on ABC Channel 7′s local news at 5 p.m. on February 19:

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Representing the Chicago ANS local section and overseeing the student activities were:

  • Natalie Zaczek—Exelon, Dresden plant—mechanical engineer
  • Paul Stalec—Sargent & Lundy LLC—mechanical engineer
  • Marissa Seloover—Exelon, Dresden plant—electrical engineer
  • Rona Banai—EPIR Technologies—chemical engineer

Chuck Vincent of ANS Headquarters introduced the workshop by talking about the role of engineers in our modern world—citing students’ use of cell phones, roads and bridges, electricity, etc.—and how National Engineers Week provides an opportunity for students to learn about the kind of work that engineers do.  Zaczek, Stalec and Seloover then spoke about their engineering specialties.

Zaczek introduced the engineering challenge:  Work in a group to design an apparatus to allow an egg to drop from a height of 5 feet and have it “stop” within 2 inches of the floor without breaking. Students were given a variety of materials: one nylon leg from a pair of panty hose, balloons, rubber bands, string, plastic bags, and pennies.

Students test their prototypes

The students first designed and tested a prototype of their design (without the egg). Then, under the watchful eyes of their fellow students, they tested the design for their “thrill ride” using a raw egg. The initial results weren’t quite on target. One group broke its egg; the other groups had the egg stop too far above the floor. Groups were given additional time to tweak or redo their designs.

Then, the final demonstrations followed. In the final round, four of the six student groups achieved the goal. One group managed to stop the egg 1.5 inches from the floor. The remaining two groups made significant improvements in their work.

Throughout this activity, there was discussion of HOW engineers work to solve problems, including testing prototypes before attempting to employ the planned solution. Students asked many questions of the four engineers, covering such things as how long do engineers have to come up with solutions, how did they find their jobs after college, and what kind of training is important. About half of the students indicated an ongoing interest in engineering. After this activity, virtually all the students said that they had a better understanding of how engineers work.

“This very successful event is an example of what a local section or student section can achieve with enthusiastic volunteers and advance planning,” said Chuck Vincent, ANS Outreach administrator. “We hope to see other sections working on plans for National Nuclear Science Week and National Engineers Week next year.”

Students work on final designs during the National Engineers Week workshop held by the Chicago ANS local section

ANS local sections, student sections, and individual members can all help students and the general public develop a better understanding of the important role of engineers. For a list of 50 ideas about how to participate in National Engineers Week, visit Get Involved.

The march of time, nuclear wise

By Peter Caracappa

I teach students of engineering. Many of them (although certainly not all) prefer logarithms to literature and algebra to anthropology. No doubt they get a fair share of that in my classes, but I try to include a bit of history whenever I can.

My students all know that matter is made up of atoms. They know that those atoms are made up of electrons that are orbiting around a central nucleus, which itself is a mixture of protons and neutrons. “When did you first learn these concepts—the nucleus, protons, and neutrons?” I like to ask. For many, it was elementary school, or possibly early in middle school. Regardless, it is clearly something that we teach to children, and it is perceived as an “obvious” fact of nature.

Then I point out that 100 hundred years ago, these theories simply did not exist that today we consider so fundamental to our understanding of the nature of matter. One hundred years ago, there were airplanes, automobiles, and electric lights, but no such concept as the nucleus.


In fact, it will be 100 hundred years ago this May that Ernest Rutherford published a paper in Philosophical Magazine positing the idea that atoms consist of a dense nucleus surrounded by electrons (Rutherford E. [1911]. “The Scattering of α and β Particles by Matter and the Structure of the Atom”. Philosophical Magazine, Series 6 21: 669-688).  I think this is a centennial worth celebrating!

Okay, so maybe some will peg the 100th anniversary to the gold foil experiments performed by Rutherford’s students Geiger and Marsden in 1909 .  So be it—there are plenty more anniversaries to come:  it wasn’t until 1913 that Bohr put forth his theory of orbiting electrons, and it was all the way to 1932 before Chadwick demonstrated the existence of that last puzzle piece that made the entire field of nuclear engineering possible, the neutron (although a neutral nuclear particle was postulated by Rutherford himself in 1920).

In today’s world, the pace of technological innovation should come as a surprise to no one. And yet, it is easy to forget just how “young” the fundamental knowledge is that we rely on as the building blocks of our industry. If nothing else, it should give us an appreciation for the potential for the discoveries made today, and just how quickly they could change everything.


Peter Caracappa is a clinical assistant professor and radiation safety officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York State. He was a founding executive committee member of the Young Members Group and currently serves as its chair. He is a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

National Engineers Week: February 20-26, 2011

National Engineers Week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the significant contributions engineers make to our modern society. This annual event, which will be held February 20-26 in 2011, also provides an opportunity to help students understand the kind of work that engineers do. Your participation can  interest a young person in pursuing an engineering career!

The American Nuclear Society has available suggestions for activities to use during classroom visits. ANS also offers brochures and other materials to leave with students and teachers during classroom visits.  Online resources are also available on the ANS Public Information website.

Local Sections, Student Sections, and individual members can all help students and the general public develop a better understanding of the important role of engineers. For a list of 50 ideas about how you can participate in National Engineers Week, visit Get Involved.

For information about materials ANS has available to help you as you make classroom visits or conduct other activities marking National Engineers Week, write the ANS Outreach Department. You can also call the ANS switchboard at 708-352-6611 and ask for the Outreach Department.

The U.S. and the world in the nuclear power race

Excelsior College on Wednesday, January 26, is hosting a webinar, Can the U.S. Catch the World in the Nuclear Power Race? which will bring together scholars and nuclear technology practitioners from across the United States for a panel discussion on the subject matter. The event is being held in conjunction with National Nuclear Science Week.

The webinar, sponsored by Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology, will take place from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. EST and is available online here. Please take time to send an RSVP e-mail to Excelsior College’s Tina Perfetti.

Excelsior College, in Albany, N.Y., is one of 41 schools nationwide that has a student chapter of the American Nuclear Society, and is the only distance learning institution with an ANS student chapter.

U.S. engagement in nuclear energy production

The webinar will open with a look at recent claims by China of a major breakthrough in nuclear fuel reprocessing, as a starting point for discussion on America’s international engagement in nuclear energy—the technology that was pioneered in the United States—and the consequences of falling further behind France, Russia, Japan, and other nations that continue to expand their investments in nuclear power generation.

The panel will include:

  • Gilbert Brown, professor, Nuclear Engineering Program, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
  • Byron Thinger, senior nuclear engineer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College
  • Jay James, nuclear engineer (retired), Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College
  • Anthony DeAngelo, health physicist, Instructional Faculty, Excelsior College, president-elect of the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Health Physics Society
  • Patrick Berry, director, Training and Development, Entergy Nuclear, Industry Advisory Council, Excelsior College
  • Peggy Caserto, Instructional Faculty, Excelsior College
  • Randy Fromm, senior consultant, The Westwind Group, Inc., Instructional Faculty, Interim Program director, Excelsior College

To follow along on Twitter, search the term #NukeWeb.

This post appeared on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

National Nuclear Science Week in Minnesota

National Nuclear Science Week, January 24–28, is underway across the United States and is being promoted in Minnesota with activities that include tours of PaR Nuclear’s facility, a student essay competition, and trivia contests.

PaR Nuclear's facility

PaR Nuclear provides fuel-handling equipment, outage-critical cranes, and services equipment for commercial nuclear power plants  around the world. The company’s facility, in Shoreview, Minn., contains the outage equipment and tools, along with heavy lift cranes. The facility consists of 60 000 square feet of floor space and includes three high bays.

On hand to lead the tours are experienced and knowledgeable engineers, field technicians, and business professionals from PaR Nuclear, who provide students and others who tour the facility with information about career opportunities in the nuclear power industry. Dozens of students from the local Dunwoody Technical College have attended the event, among others.

The activities are supported by the American Nuclear Society, Women in Nuclear, Westinghouse Electric, and PaR Nuclear.

Minnesota’s state legislature is considering legislation that would lift the moratorium on new nuclear energy facilities. Minnesota is home to two existing nuclear power plants:  Monticello and Prairie Island-1 and -2.

This year’s theme for National Nuclear Science Week is “Get to Know Nuclear.”

National Nuclear Science Week is a national, broadly observed seven-day celebration to focus local, regional, and national interest on all aspects of nuclear science. Each day will provide opportunities throughout the country for learning about the contributions, innovations, and opportunities that can be found by exploring nuclear science.

This post appeared on ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Nuclear science on Capitol Hill on Thursday

Leading figures from Congress, the commercial nuclear industry, and academia will convene on January 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.,  to detail the contributions of nuclear technology and the possibilities associated with education in nuclear science. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) will be the featured speaker at a discussion of the contributions, innovations, and opportunities that can be found by exploring nuclear science.

The event is one of many planned across the United States as part of National Nuclear Science Week, which began on January 24. Sponsored by the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, in Albuquerque, N.M., National Nuclear Science Week recognizes the contributions of the nuclear technology and science sector and the people who work in it every day. Each day of the week will promote a different aspect of nuclear science:

  • Monday: Get to know nuclear technology
  • Tuesday: Careers in the nuclear fields
  • Wednesday: Nuclear energy
  • Thursday: Nuclear safety
  • Friday: Nuclear medicine

The Capitol Hill event will start at 10:30 a.m. on January 27 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Room (366 Dirksen). The scheduled speakers are:

  • Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
  • Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer, Nuclear Energy Institute (Topics: Industry performance in 2010; policy priorities in 2011; highlights of utility-sponsored activity during Nuclear Science Week)
  • Audeen Fentiman, associate dean of Engineering, Purdue University (Topics: Trends in nuclear engineering enrollment; promise of jobs and work force initiatives; need for federal research and grant support)
  • Giuseppe Esposito, associate professor of Radiology, and chief, Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University (Topics: Current innovative treatments; radioisotope availability)
  • Jim Walther, director, National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, panel moderator

For more information, contact the Nuclear Energy Institute’s John Keeley by e-mail or call him at 202/739-8020.