Throughout February and March, a group of U-M Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) students hosted a series of virtual workshops aimed at introducing middle and high school students to nuclear concepts. Attendees played interactive games and built crafts like cloud chambers and candy nuclear reactors to learn about physics, fission, fusion, and more.
The workshops were part of the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP). The program connects Detroit-area students to educational opportunities in STEM. Below, NERS students share their experiences with the program.
NERS Ph.D. Student
Research Focus: Gamma-ray detection and imaging for cancer therapy and nuclear safeguards
Valerie led sessions about basic atomic physics and fission, nuclear power plants, nuclear fusion, and radiation detectors, and nuclear accidents.
“Teaching Glow Blue virtually this year was definitely a challenging experience,” Valerie said. “However, working alongside this awesome team of instructors and the enthusiasm the students had and their want to learn and understand more made every class enjoyable! I’m glad we were able to create a space where the students felt encouraged to ask questions and felt empowered to interpret and then explain the different nuclear concepts in their own way.”
NERS M.S. Student
Research Focus: Isotopic-tailoring of materials for low-activation and waste management purposes for use in fission and fusion reactors
Mackenzie led sessions about basic atomic physics, fission, nuclear power plants, and nuclear accidents. She included photos from her trips to Hiroshima and Fukushima, Japan for the latter sessions. She participated and facilitated discussions during the other sessions. To relate the technical content to the students, she introduced fun activities such as a candy nuclear reactor and a Jolly Rancher radiation thought experiment. “I used the candy nuclear reactor while participating in EEE day last year to teach nuclear power reactors to K-5 students. They loved it and it was well-received by students and parents. I adapted the Jolly Rancher radiation thought experiment from Prof. Brian Kiedrowski’s cookie problem from NERS 250. I’ve always liked being able to convey the information I’ve been studying in a way that anyone can understand it.”
Participating in the Glow Blue program has inspired Mackenzie to create her own version of the program in her home school district of Garden City, Michigan. She says it’s important to start STEM outreach early, especially nuclear education, to get students thinking of another world of possibilities. “We didn’t learn about nuclear energy in middle school or high school. Then it becomes the student’s responsibility to search for information on the internet, which can lead to finding incomplete or inaccurate information. Nuclear energy becomes scary to most people because they don’t fully understand it and their only references are the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi accidents. Starting this program is my way of giving back to my home community, my nuclear community, and especially the NERS community because they’ve given me all the information I need to be successful. The Glow Blue program has given me the opportunity to reinforce my understanding of nuclear engineering, improve my communication skills, and a way to impact our future generations.”
NERS Ph.D. Student
Research Focus: Gas-Core Nuclear Thermal Rocket Propulsion and Plasma Electric Propulsion
Ritz taught the plasma and fusion topic, encouraged them through the duration of the class and got to know what the kids would like to be in the future.
“The students were engaging, committed, and motivated,” Ritz said. “These are some excellent students and I see future U-M Engineers in them.”
Ritz sees the Glow Blue program as a unique opportunity to invest in the next generation of students. “Showing them a path towards college and beyond is helpful for them and I’m glad to be a part of this,” Ritz said. He hopes more middle school and high school students will take part in DAPCEP, and that more NERS graduate students will get involved with the Glow Blue program.
NERS Ph.D. Student
Research Focus: Laser-based analysis for remote detection of nuclear materials
Lauren helped make slides and plan the lessons. She taught sessions related to the parts of an atom, radiation detection, dose, and an intro to her research with a virtual lab tour.
“The students were very curious about the topics and asked really insightful questions!” Lauren said. “I was super impressed with how well they remembered the materials from week to week. They did a great job with the activities, given that they were virtual. How great the students were made it an enjoyable experience that flew by!”