An Illuminating Experience: MMA Scouts Visit the Largest Research Reactor in the U.S. 

An Illuminating Experience: MMA Scouts Visit the Largest Research Reactor in the U.S. 

On April 23, Scouts from Missouri Military Academy’s Scout Troop 1889, along with nine middle school aspiring scientists, toured MURR, the University of Missouri’s Research Reactor — the largest research reactor in the United States. MURR is a world leader in researching radiation for medical and pharmaceutical use. 

“Since returning from holiday furlough, six cadets from MMA’s Troop 1889 have been pursuing the hardest merit badge a Scout can achieve, the Nuclear Science Merit Badge,” says Chris Schafer ’89, MMA engineering and science instructor.

Operating at 10 megawatts, MURR is the most powerful university research reactor in
the United States. 

In the pursuit of this merit badge, Scouts learned about modern particle physics, the hazards of radiation, how to protect themselves from radiation, the different uses of radiation in medicine, the 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.

While visiting MURR, the cadets performed labs led by Dr. William Miller, a professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and MURR research scientist, to better understand how time, distance and shielding protect people from radiation contamination. Dr. Miller also led a demonstration of a cloud chamber, which can be used to see electrons and charged particles and the use of a radiation detector.

Dr. Miller took cadets on a tour of MURR where he explained how a nuclear reactor works and the difference between a power-generating reactor and a research reactor.

Dr. William Miller, University of Missouri professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and MURR research scientist, educates MMA cadets.

“The nuclear reactor was amazing!” says Cadet Bryan Odwyer-Moore. “I got to see how reactors work. Since learning more, it has inspired me to become a scientific engineer in the future.”

Dr. Miller led the cadets to an observation deck where he explained how research and testing are performed in the reactor. 

“This was an illuminating experience for all, Scouts and chaperones alike,” says Schafer '89. 

The core of the reactor was in a pool of distilled water 40 feet deep, which is where the nuclear fuel rods are kept for the experiments that MURR performs. The cadets got to experience the Cherenkov phenomenon, which is the blue glow surrounding the fuel rods that is caused by charged particles traveling faster than the speed of light through the water. 

“Going to the reactor was definitely one of the most unique and interesting things I have done at MMA,” says Cadet Ian Carlson. “Prior to coming, we each studied how reactors work, the properties of radiation and the parts of the atom. When looking into the reactor, you were just hit with an incredible sense of awe. The water looked so peaceful, and the blue light from the radiation made it look almost alien. It was an incredible experience that I am extremely glad to have had.”

The Cherenkov phenomenon is the blue glow surrounding the fuel rods, which is caused by charged particles traveling faster than the speed of light through the water. 

Cadets Tyler Bien, August Jackson, Ian Carlson, Jesus Robinson, Levi, and Caleb Evertson will all receive their Nuclear Science Merit Badges during MMA's commencement weekend in May.

“The reactor was a wonderful experience for me, especially as someone who loves science,” says Cadet Ethan Winters. “This trip was a wonderful learning experience and has taught me a lot of things.”

Troop 1889 is led by Mr. Robert Silbaugh, MMA vice president of institutional advancement and an Eagle Scout, assisted by Scout advisors Mr. Matt Jackson and Mr. Eric Evertson, also an Eagle Scout.

View more photos here. 

Cadet News