Science and Technology News

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Florida Scouts converge at AFTAC to earn Nuclear Science Merit Badge

by Susan A. Romano
AFTAC Public Affairs


11/2/2015 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- Members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center hosted an annual workshop for area Boy Scouts Oct. 24 in an effort to help them earn the Nuclear Science Merit Badge.

Forty-four scouts from Orange, Indian River and Brevard counties - 11 troops in all - traveled to Patrick AFB to learn about the Department of Defense's sole nuclear treaty monitoring center and listen to center volunteers talk about nuclear science.

The boys began the morning in a classroom setting, where they received a welcome briefing from Lt. Col. Suzanna McNabb, deputy of AFTAC's nuclear sciences division, and an introduction to what a nuclear treaty monitoring center actually does.  After the briefing and a question-and-answer session, the boys began constructing 3-D models of elements and isotopes using gummy bears; learning the nuclear fission process; and creating cloud chambers out of petri dishes.

Throughout the day, each scout was required to make written entries in their handbooks, which included observations, notes from each presentation, and what they learned during the hands-on practicals.  Their materials were reviewed for thoroughness and accuracy, and if all criteria were met, they received their signed merit badge cards, officially awarding them their Nuclear Science Merit Badge.

Prior to visiting AFTAC's lab area, the boys, scoutmasters and parents enjoyed a barbeque lunch at the center's outdoor patio, fondly referred to as Stonehenge (due to the concrete blocks that circle the patio area).  Once the boys' hunger was satisfied, they were escorted to the lab and warehouse, where center volunteers manned stations with various equipment and experiments on display.

One such experiment was conducted by Tech. Sgt. Michael Stolp, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of radiation protection.  Stolp showed the scouts how to use survey instrumentation to demonstrate the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principle pertaining to radiation exposure.  He displayed very low grades of radioactive sources - cesium, americium and plutonium - and used different levels of shielding to illustrate to the boys what types of materials can be used to shield the alpha, beta and gamma emitters.

Another AFTAC volunteer, Master Sgt. Chad Taguba, a physicist at the center, demonstrated what happens when liquid nitrogen is placed in an extremely low-pressure environment, exhibiting a unique property of matter known as a substance's 'triple point.'

Connie Cook escorted her grandson, Codey Smithson from Troop 772 in Palm Bay, to the merit badge day and was very impressed.

"This has got to be the most amazing opportunity ever!" she exclaimed.  "All these young Airmen are just so intelligent and talented and I am so grateful beyond words.  Codey said to me at lunchtime, 'Grandma, I couldn't keep up on my notes because I was just so enthralled with everything!'  It truly has been such a meaningful experience and we can't thank AFTAC enough."

This year's project officer, Staff Sgt. David A. Pettinelli, AFTAC's laboratory measurements supervisor, was extremely pleased with the turn out and how the program came together.

"A lot of behind the scenes planning and preparation brought event together, and without the help of the 17 volunteers who took time out of their weekend schedule, it definitely wouldn't have been the success it was," said Pettinelli.  "We were able to brief on four STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) areas in an effort to not only help the Scouts earn the badge, but also to encourage them to pursue STEM fields later in life.  It's definitely no easy task to guide young minds along the path of comprehending this level of science, but the folks here at AFTAC are really experts in their fields and did well to inform and inspire our local youth.  I'm proud to have been a part of it."

The Nuclear Science Merit Badge is earned by less than one percent of Boys Scouts worldwide.

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