Category Archives: Science & Engineering Education

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

ANS at the USA Science & Engineering Festival

The American Nuclear Society will be participating this weekend in the largest celebration of science in the United States: the 2nd annual USA Science & Engineering Festival.  The finale Expo of the festival will be Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.

The Expo will feature over 3,000 fun, interactive, hands-on exhibits; more than 100 stage shows featuring science celebrities, musicians, magicians, and comedians; and 33 author presentations.

Visit the ANS exhibit (“booth” #2653) during the Expo at the Convention Center to take in some nuclear knowledge. Click here for a map of exhibit locations—we will be in Hall A between the National Robot Fest and the Einstein Stage. The start page for the Expo is here. As you can see, there will certainly be no shortage of things to do!

Expo hours will be 10am-6pm on Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sunday. New this year:  The USA Science & Engineering Festival Book Fair, and a Career Pavilion for high-school students that includes a College Fair, a Job Fair and a Meet the Scientist/Engineer Networking area.

The main idea is to encourage kids to consider careers in science and engineering. The ANS exhibit will be supported by ANS Outreach staff and by members of the Washington, D.C. and nearby ANS Local Sections. The USA Science & Engineering Festival is free of charge, so be sure to visit!

Join the exhibit to talk with young people about nuclear science and technology

If you live in the DC area, please consider volunteering to spend some time with ANS staff and ANS Local Section members talking with young people about nuclear science and technology — email Chuck Vincent, ANS Outreach, for more information.

ANS Student Conference 2012 in the News

The 2012 ANS Student Conference in Las Vegas wrapped up last weekend.  Thanks to all attendees and to the host University of Nevada Las Vegas Student Section of the American Nuclear Society for making the event such a success!  News coverage of the conference from ABC TV Channel 13 KTNV:

Call to action: Educate and encourage students about nuclear science

 By Bethany Cargle

“Do power plants really use mouse traps and ping-pong balls to create energy?” asked a fifth grade boy at Steele Creek Elementary School. Why would he ask this question? The question was a legitimate one for students attending the RCS Nuclear–sponsored reading of the children’s picture book Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Plant Really Works! at Steele Creek Elementary in Charlotte, N.C., during National Engineers Week.

Amelia Frahm, author of the book, read the book to the school children and described a fission chain reaction using a metaphor of ping-pong balls and mouse traps to help children understand how energy is produced in a nuclear power plant. This is why RCS Nuclear chose to donate Frahm’s book to Charlotte area elementary schools and sponsor the author reading.

As a supplier of nuclear and related engineering personnel, RCS Nuclear believes it has a responsibility to encourage young students to become engineers, especially because of the lack of interest sometimes found in students today. “These students are the future for the industries we supply engineers to, and it is the company’s responsibility to prepare them now,” said Carlos Garcia, ANS member and founder of RCS Nuclear.

In attendance at Frahm’s book reading were five sessions of 50 students; in total, approximately 250 fourth and fifth graders were there. Prior to the reading, the students were asked if they knew what nuclear engineers did or how nuclear energy was created. No student could give an answer, but they listened carefully as they learned how a nuclear plant works from the point of view of a lab rat, a blue bird, and a fat cat, who are characters in the book. Then, they laughed and enjoyed a video created by the author, which demonstrated the mouse trap and ping-pong ball fission chain reaction. These reactions prove that educating young students about nuclear energy and encouraging them to pursue a higher education and career in the nuclear industry is necessary and effective. When approached with information about nuclear science in a way that is enjoyable to them, it can spark a new interest in students and influence their future educational goals.

“What makes a Nuclear Plant Nu-cle-ar?” – a report by Birderson Cooper Produced by Tabitha Frahm and Amelia Frahm

It is the responsibility of companies, organizations, and individuals involved in the nuclear industry to participate in K-12 outreach programs and events such as National Nuclear Science Week and National Engineers Week. Messages need to be entertaining and tailored to engage young people using concepts they understand. For example, during the author reading at Steele Creek Elementary School, Amelia Frahm tapped into the fourth and fifth grade psyche and, in addition to the ping-pong ball and mouse trap metaphor, explained fissioning by using a spitball fight, with teachers being the control rods who stop the fission chain reaction/spitball fight. The students instantly related to this and truly got a simplified understanding of a fission chain reaction.

There are many opportunities for the nuclear industry to get involved in securing its future. Research and use the many resources that are available to assist in your K-12 outreach. It is important to become active with schools and youth organizations, rather than remain passive and hope that students are getting encouragement solely from their teachers and administration. Pass along your passion for your profession and the nuclear industry to young people, and reach the ones who may never have considered a nuclear career if not for your support.

Suzy Hobbs Baker introduces Amelia Frahm and Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Plant Really Works! at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Some resources from the American Nuclear Society:

See ANS Public Information for much more.



Bethany Cargle is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina- Charlotte with a B.A. in Communication Studies. She is the Marketing Specialist at RCS Nuclear (, a professional staffing service provider for the nuclear industry, and is a member of the Piedmont-Carolinas American Nuclear Society chapter.

A young girl and high technology

By Jane LeClair

When I was a young girl, I fell in love with science and technology. I was intrigued by famous physicist and chemist Marie Curie and her pioneering research on radioactivity. I wanted to know how such a small piece of uranium could be turned into so much energy. And my curiosity about the nuclear plant that was being built about 50 miles from where we lived only grew as I reached my teens.

My fascination with science was perhaps an unusual passion for a girl at the time. Still, despite the downward pressure that came with trying to navigate a world that pigeonholed women within certain career paths, my passion for science and technology never wavered. In truth, I devoted my life to it, spending nearly two decades in the nuclear industry before leaving for academia and occasionally consulting with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

With changing demographics and retirements, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts increasing demand for engineers. Yet, when I left the field I became just another statistic and part of an alarming number of women (56 percent) who leave the technology fields by mid-career. We’ll need to reverse that trend to fill the labor gap.

This is why the 11th Annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, on Thursday, February 23, is critical in raising awareness of an important issue: Opportunities for women in engineering. Historically, as a professional field, and as a nation that values scientific achievement, we have failed to engage generation after generation of young women—many of whom with a bit of encouragement, mentoring, and most importantly, acceptance could have grown up to lead the next generation of engineers.

The sobering reality is that many young women don’t understand what a career in engineering offers: A creative outlet, great pay, and a chance to positively impact the world. It is a field for the independent thinker, the individual who loves to solve puzzles and find solutions to problems. A career in engineering is also an opportunity to see the world. Throughout my career, I’ve trotted the globe, from Ukraine to Hungary, Sweden to Vienna, visiting nuclear plants and engineering programs and working with the IAEA. I’ve also visited nuclear plants throughout the United States to bring academia and industry together to meet their mutual needs and the needs of our global community.

As a young girl, I never would have dreamed I would be doing what I’m doing. I’ve faced many challenges along the way as I negotiated the glass maze of prerequisite positions, interviews, qualifications comparisons, time in grade, and other confusing practices typical of high-end technology careers. But I am proud of my accomplishments. If it wasn’t for the encouragement of those close to me growing up, and the help of mentors along the way, none of this would have been possible. I know that many of the women engineers I have worked with throughout my career share my sentiments.

Let’s mark Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day by refocusing our priorities and affording all young women of science the encouragement they need to pursue careers in the technology and engineering fields.

Dr. Jane LeClair tells her story of working in high technology:


Dr. Jane LeClair is the Dean of the school of Business and Technology at Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., and an advocate for recruiting and retaining more women in the technology fields. LeClair worked in the nuclear industry for Constellation Energy for 20 years in various management positions. She was involved in a variety of professional organizations, including the American Nuclear Society, where she served as chair of the Education and Training Division, and the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), where she was region chair of the St. Lawrence Section of ASEE. She has worked with the IAEA and has chaired several international conferences and collaborated on numerous projects. She blogs on higher education, online learning, women in technology, the nuclear industry, and her experiences traveling the globe at Café LeClair.

ANS to hold teacher workshop in Phoenix, AZ

ANS November 2011 Teachers Workshop

Hands-on activity during a November 2011 ANS Teachers Workshop

The American Nuclear Society’s Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information and the ANS Outreach Department will be sponsoring a one-day teacher workshop on Sunday, February 26, in Phoenix, Ariz. The workshop—Detecting Radiation in Our Radioactive World—is intended for science educators (including biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, physical science, life science, environmental, and general science teachers) at the high school and middle school levels. The workshop will be held prior to WM2012, the international waste management conference that takes place annually in Phoenix.

The following video provides feedback from teachers and presenters who attended the June 2011 ANS Teachers Workshop, held in Hollywood, Fla.


The full-day workshop will prepare attendees to teach the basics about radiation, how we detect radiation, and the uses of nuclear science and technology in society. Teachers who complete the workshop will receive a wealth of materials—background information, hands-on activities, and supplementary resources—and a Geiger counter. Career opportunities in nuclear science and technology will be highlighted during the sessions.

“We’re excited to be offering this overview of radiation and nuclear science to teachers in the Phoenix area,” said Chuck Vincent, ANS Outreach administrator. “Workshop participants are always eager to receive their free Geiger counters and learn about hands-on demonstrations that they can use in their classrooms.”

Currently, scheduled presenters include:

  • Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar, assistant professor of nuclear engineering, Idaho State University, and research scientist at Idaho National Laboratory
  • Mansel Nelson, program coordinator, environmental education outreach program, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, Northern Arizona University
  • Terry Price, mechanical engineer, Palo Verde Generation Station of Arizona Public Service Company
  • Walter Thomas, chemistry teacher and district science coordinator, Wickenburg Unified School District, Wickenburg, Ariz.
  • Debra Thrall, executive director, Albert I. Pierce Foundation, Albuquerque, N.M.

Please visit the ANS website for more information, including an announcement and online registration form. The workshop will be limited in size to optimize interaction with presenters. Registration is on a first-come first-served basis.

There is a $60 nonrefundable registration fee—which includes continental breakfast, lunch, printed materials, and a Civil Defense Surplus analog radiation monitor—for teachers to reserve a place at the workshop.  The registration deadline is 12:00 noon (Central Time), Tuesday, February 14.

Funding for the workshop is provided in part by individual and organizational contributions to ANS. Additional support is provided by Waste Management Symposia and WM2012.

Excelsior College ‘Women in Nuclear’ webinar tonight at 7 pm ET

To round out National Nuclear Science Day, Excelsior College is hosting a webinar entitled 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.

The webinar panel is addressing a number of issues, including:

  • What is the nature of the technological “Glass Maze”
  • The current state of women in the nuclear field
  • The role of professional organizations in furthering career development and advancement for women
  • The benefits of memberships in nuclear and technological professional organizations
  • The impact of voluntary support coalitions on leveling the playing field
  • Where the nuclear industry is headed over the next decade

The panel features  Coleen Ware, training director with the Tennessee Valley Authority; Erin West, licensing supervisor, Tennessee Valley Authority; Professional Development chair, NA-YGN; and Margaret Harding, one of ANS’s national spokespersons during the Fukushima nuclear crisis this past March and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Jane LeClair, Dean of the School of Business & Technology, Excelsior College , is moderating the discussion.

Visit the Excelsior College events weblink  for more information—including how to register. The discussion is scheduled to run from 7:00 to 8:00 pm Eastern Time.

Today is National Nuclear Science Day!

Today is National Nuclear Science Day, an event celebrating nuclear science and technology. The American Nuclear Society is proud to be a sponsor of this full-day event at the Illinois Institute of Technology that features world-class nuclear experts in many fields of nuclear science and technology. The experts, during presentations during the day, are explaining what nuclear is all about during live internet webinars and question-and-answer sessions for students in grades 5-12 (and other interested parties).

You can register for the webinars by visiting the National Science Teachers Association Learning Center—a great all-around resource for science learning). The webinar is open to the public (free registration is required).

For details on the Nuclear Science Day agenda, the presenters, and all the day’s information, check out the Nuclear Science Day Press Release. About 1,000 classrooms are viewing the webcast throughout the day—representing more than 20,000 students and teachers across the United States.


ANS President Eric Loewen spoke to students from six area high schools about nuclear careers. His presentation began at 1:00 pm Central Time and was  live-tweeted at ans_org using the twitter hashtag #NNSW12.

Don’t forget to check back at the ANS Nuclear Cafe for live reports!

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.