A major advantage of studying nuclear physics with access to a research reactor is that you do not have to study the concepts in theory only, you can see some of it applied in practice. On Friday were able to participate in an experiment that demonstrated how neutron detectors can be used to determine the mass of a uranium sample.
The experiment was fairly straight forward in that we conducted a few readings with samples of known masses so that we could create a graph that would provide the equation to assess the readings from the unknown sample and determine its mass. We were counting the pulses from neutron activation of a He3 gas-filled neutron detector (by counting I mean we clicked on the computer and it counted for us, aint nobody got time for that).
The part that spawned all my jokes for the day was the instrument used to lower the sample into the reactor core. It was just a capsule on the end of a string. So naturally, a large number of fishing puns and jokes were told over the course of the experiment.
It was really interesting to be able to work with the reactor as a tool for scientific analysis. And as we are constantly reminded, we are policy students who are trying to learn nuclear physics so having a little hands-on demonstration really does help bring the concepts home.
The only major disappointment of the was that they wouldn’t let me touch the uranium samples…