Since the beginning of the spring semester, nine cadets from MMA’s Boy Scout Troop 1889 have been pursuing the hardest merit badge a Scout can achieve — the nuclear science merit badge. That education recently culminated in a trip to tour the University of Missouri (Columbia) Research Reactor (MURR), the largest research reactor in the United States. During the trip, the cadets also had the opportunity to perform labs led by Dr. William H. Miller, University of Missouri professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and MURR research scientist.
In pursuit of this merit badge, the Scouts learned about modern particle physics, hazards of radiation, how to protect yourself from radiation, the different uses of radiation in medicine, terminology of nuclear science and how radiation is used in the food industry to protect our foods. Scouts also learned about radon, a radioactive gas that settles in basements, and how to set up a short-term radon detector.
The Scouts' education for this merit badge also included a video guest speaker, David Brooks, who works as a radiation safety technician at the Quad Cities Nuclear Power Plant in Illinois. He spoke to the Scouts about the training, education and experience needed to work in the nuclear power generation industry.
On Feb. 15, the Scouts toured the University of Missouri (Columbia) Research Reactor (MURR), a world leader in researching the use of radiation for medical and pharmaceutical use. At MURR, the Scouts performed labs led by Dr. Miller, to better understand how time, distance and shielding protects people from radiation contamination. Mark Korol, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical and aerospace engineering, led a demonstration of a cloud chamber, which can be used to see electrons, charged particles and the use of a radiation detector.
The time spent at MURR included a tour of the facility, which was led by Dr. Miller, Mr. Korol and Sarah Geisen, an engineer with the MURR Reactor Group. Dr. Miller explained how a nuclear reactor works and the difference between a power generating reactor and a research reactor. He led the Scouts to an observation deck where he explained how research and testing is performed in the reactor, while the Scouts observed the core of the research reactor below.
The core of a reactor, in a pool of distilled water 40-feet deep, is where the nuclear fuel rods are kept for the various experiments that MURR performs. The Scouts saw firsthand the Cherenkov phenomenon, the blue glow surrounding the fuel rods, which is caused by charged particles traveling faster than the speed of light through the water.
MURR Reactor photo courtesy of MURR.
"Seeing such a massive piece of technology was incredible," Cadet Mason Brooks said. "Not only did we finish one of the most challenging merit badges in Scouting, but we also got a wonderful learning experience. The wide variety of research MURR conducts is tremendous, and the amount of work they do in fields such as medicine, engineering and chemistry is genuinely remarkable."
Cadets Jacob Pehle, Riley Hanley, Jet Rodewald, Paramvir Reen, Bryce McIlwain, Malachi Imrie, Jayden Lewis, Kamil Sanchez De Ovando Pérez, and Senior Patrol Leader Cadet Brooks will receive their nuclear science merit badges during MMA's commencement weekend in May.
Troop 1889 is led by Mr. Robert Silbaugh, MMA vice president of institutional advancement and an Eagle Scout, and Scout advisors Mr. Chad Miller, Mrs. Jessica Miller, Mr. Matt Jackson, Mr. Richard Dehlinger ‘93 and Mr. Chris Schafer ’89.
We extend our deepest appreciation to the Manager of Nuclear Science & Engineering Education Programs Gayla Neumeyer for her assistance in coordinating an experience that these cadets will never forget.
Thank you to Chris Schafer for this article.