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Summer SAVY 2016 (Session 3, Day 3) – Fission and Fusion: Nuclear Engineering 101

Posted by on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 in Grade 5, Grade 6, SAVY.

Day 3 of our SAVY session began with a competitive game of Fission and Fusion Jeopardy which team “Nuclear Turtles” won by demonstrating stellar knowledge they learned from day 2.
Students then mapped and presented their nuclear accident fault trees based on the research they gathered during day 2. After discussing the sequence of events that led to these accidents, we realized that poor decision making and poor planning greatly increased the consequences of the accidents. Students offered their own (sometimes very creative!) strategies to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

We further elaborated on nuclear safety by learning how we can reduce our exposure to radioactivity through time, distance, and shielding. We tested these ideas through our own experiment where we varied the time, distance, and amount of shielding between our water source (“radioactivity’) and the bucket (“exposed individual”). Our data revealed that we could get a lot more water in the bucket if we had more time and we were closer to the bucket. We also saw the benefits of using a shield in our experiment.

Shielding for radioactive decay!
Shielding for radioactive decay!

Next, we learned how radioactive decay could also protect us from radiation, but that it could take several billion years to occur. Each student had to calculate the half-life of their “radioactive” Skittles through repeated decay steps until no radioactivity remained. We plotted our individual data and the average class data. We compared these data sets to the predicted half-life of our radioactive Skittles and saw that our class average matched almost exactly with the predicted half-life formula.

Tomorrow, we are going to learn about benefits of some radiation sources like x-rays that are used to diagnose broken bones. In the afternoon, we are visiting an imaging center on Vanderbilt’s campus that uses x-rays to analyze mice to better understand how diseases impact our body. Afterwards, we are going to head over to the Civil and Environmental Engineering Laboratory to see how scientists analyze different elements and characterize nuclear waste.