Skip navigation

Public Outreach

One of the primary roles the PUR-1 facility plays is education and outreach to the community about nuclear topics. Anyone of our staff is more than happy to arrange a tour for you. Annually, we give approximately 1500 people tours. Each tour is tailored to be relevant to the age group requesting a tour. We traditionally discuss general radiation principles, common natural radiation sources, health effects of radiation, nuclear reactor basics, and of course take a look at Purdue's Nuclear Reactor.

We are happy to answer any questions you might have about nuclear energy. Just ask!  Learn how to schedule a tour.

Students on a tour of the reactor room

Reactor Sharing Program 

The Purdue University School of Nuclear Engineering offers a program for students to spend a day in the Nuclear Engineering Reactor Laboratories, learning about radiation detection and nuclear reactions.  This field trip program is specially designed for small classes of high school juniors or seniors in advanced science classes to participate in demonstrations and experiments in neutron activation analysis.

When atoms are placed near a neutron source (i.e., a nuclear reactor) some of the atoms will absorb a neutron into their nucleus. The resulting new nucleus is often radioactive and will subsequently emit, among other things, photons or gamma rays. These gamma rays can be measured and analyzed with radiation detectors. The spectrum of gamma rays from a radioactive element is unique and forms a "fingerprint" for identifying what elements are contained in an unknown sample. This technique is surprisingly simple to learn and amazingly accurate. Some elements can be identified at levels of literally just a few thousand atoms present in a sample.

Students enjoy an exciting day on the Purdue University campus, learning about radiation, calibrating their gamma spectrometers, and performing an experiment to identify an unknown element using neutron activation analysis. The students are not only be able to identify their own sample, but often have enough skill and time to identify the samples of their classmates as well. This program has been a success for many years, and we often hear back from students that it was one of the best learning experiences of their high school years.

The program typically starts at 9:30am with a lecture and discussion on activation analysis followed by an experiment (by the students) using scintillation detectors to detect and determine the energy of gamma rays from calibration sources. At noon, we break for lunch and resume work at 1:00pm. The afternoon session involves placing unknown samples in the PUR-1 reactor and making them radioactive.

The resulting gamma-ray spectrum from the unknown samples is then analyzed using the spectrometers that were calibrated during the morning session. The students then identify the unknown elements by matching the energy of the gamma-rays with existing tables. The program is completed by about 3:00pm.

If you would like any additional information, please feel free to contact Clive Townsend by email or at 765-494-5764. We look forward to hearing from you.