Nuclear Know-How

Author: William Meiners
Students educate high school science teachers

On an April weekend best known for Purdue’s Spring Fest celebration and Bug Bowl, a dozen nuclear engineering students took 18 Indiana high school science teachers back to school.

Indiana high school science teachers tour the Purdue nuclear reactor during the inaugural Nuclear Science Teacher Workshop. The event was hosted by the Purdue student chapter of the American Nuclear Society.

The teachers were participants in the inaugural Nuclear Science Teacher Workshop, hosted by the student chapter of the American Nuclear Society (ANS). They had the chance to expand their knowledge of nuclear physics and technology through a series of interactive lectures and tours of various labs. They also saw the state’s lone nuclear reactor, housed on the West Lafayette campus. And each participant received a teacher handbook to assist them in lesson and experiment planning.

For Lenka Kollar, a graduate student in nuclear engineering and the ANS outreach chair, the timing of the workshop could not have been better. As an example, she points to President Barack Obama’s advocacy for nuclear power and February 2010 announcement of more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to build the first nuclear power plants in three decades.

“Loan guarantees supplied by the government will help ensure that nuclear power plants are built in the U.S. to supply clean electricity and reduce our dependence on coal and oil,” Kollar says.

While nuclear engineering students understand the opportunities provided by nuclear power, Kollar says many people are skeptical about it as a power source because of a lack of education on the subject. Subject knowledge, though, wasn’t a particular problem for the visiting high school teachers. Many of their questions related to the changing political landscape on the energy policy front, Kollar says.

Roy Streater was one of three science teachers from Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School.

“I was really blown away by their presentation,” says Streater, a physics teacher. “The students did a wonderful job. Everything was well organized. The notebook they provided had great information and resources. And the activities were well constructed and helped clarify some of the concepts.”

Made up of both graduates and undergraduates, the Purdue ANS chapter works to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). Of the nearly 80 student members on campus, 20 participated in outreach activities last year. ANS visited four local high schools, talking to 16 chemistry and physics classes. The group also participated in three other outreach events on campus and attended the Lugar Collegiate Energy Summit in Indianapolis.

The opportunity to inspire teachers resonated with several of the ANS students. “Many of our high school science teachers inspired us. We think these teachers are in a great position to turn their students toward STEM fields, as well,” says Kollar. And she should know. She chose graduate studies in science over a one-time desire for a career in marketing.