Sandia LabNews

National Nuclear Science Week a glowing success

EVERYTHING NUCLEAR — Students from Albuquerque HighSchool enjoy hands-on activities at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History during National Nuclear Science Week. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
EVERYTHING NUCLEAR — Students from Albuquerque High School enjoy hands-on activities at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History during National Nuclear Science Week. (Photo by Randy Montoya) 

Each day during National Nuclear Science Week, Jan. 23-27, Albuquerque’s National Museum of Nuclear Science & History slated hands-on activities to introduce 250 middle school and high school students to the breadth of the nuclear world.

The schedule called for everything from atomic modeling and chain reactions to workshops on radiation and basic energy programming, says museum Director Jim Walther. Local chapters of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) helped museum staff and volunteers with the presentations.

This year’s 3rd annual National Nuclear Science Week continues the theme of “Get to Know Nuclear,” aimed at promoting careers in nuclear and other sciences, technology, engineering, and math. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, a Smithsonian affiliate, sponsors the week and is largely responsible for creating it.

The designated week, the fourth week in January, came about because museum staff and corporate partners wanted a way for educational institutions and the industry to be able to talk broadly about nuclear energy, Jim says.

Industry has embraced Nuclear Science Week

“So it became a little bit of our advocacy role,” he says. The museum, chartered by Congress, is one of only a few national museums outside of Washington, D.C. Due to its location, Jim says, “we have to have a national footprint, and this is part of a way to do it.”

The week quickly became a national effort as many partners in the nuclear industry embraced it as filling a need and promoted it, he says.

Each year the celebration centers around a different location, and the location that was host the previous year marks the week with events the next year. In that way, Jim says, the celebration has grown remarkably in its short lifetime.

“It’s kind of viral on a personal level because people get excited about doing something,” he says.

This year the museum’s partners included the National Science Teachers Association and Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, which was hosting four webinars for live broadcast on Nuclear Science Day, Jan. 25, says Jeanette Miller, museum marketing director. Students and teachers nationwide were invited to log on to listen to the webinars and ask questions. Other Nuclear Science Day sponsors are the ANS, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM), Exelon Corporation and Entergy.

Teachers and others were invited to download free curriculum and information at The site includes suggested lesson plans and classroom presentations.

“If an eighth-grade classroom is talking about radiation, there’s an activity for them,” Jim says.

Nuclear world is everywhere

Elsewhere, the agenda for the week included presentations at schools and colleges, some channeled through ANS chapters; a briefing for congressional staffers in Washington on nuclear science, nuclear power, and jobs; and events scheduled at such DOE sites as Savannah River in South Carolina, Idaho National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, Ill.

National Nuclear Science Week is meant for the general public, but Jim says the way to reach adults is to reach children.

“That’s how you do it. You hook the family, you hook the kids, you get the moms and dads that way, and you begin the broader conversation about nuclear power or nuclear medicine or whatever,” he says.

The nuclear world is everywhere, from nuclear medicine in local hospitals to nuclear industry manufacturing plants to towns that have nuclear power or, in the case of communities like Albuquerque, that have national laboratories and many people working in the industry.

The museum’s national steering committee set five subject areas before the first celebration in 2010, and this year they broke down this way: Monday, education about all things nuclear; Tuesday, careers; Wednesday, nuclear energy generation; Thursday, nuclear safety; and Friday, nuclear medicine.

Focusing on careers is important in an era of increasing emphasis on creating jobs, Jim and Jeanette say. But Jim says it’s also important to the museum because “we’re interested in preparing young people to be technically capable of being employees someday. We don’t care if they work for the labs or wherever, but we want them to be better prepared for the world they’ll face when they get there.” Jeanette adds: “And scientifically literate and proficient just in order to be better prepared all around.”

Supporters of National Nuclear Science Week wanted to talk about safety because “that ends up being one of the things the adult population cares about when it comes to nuclear: ‘Is it safe? How safe is it?’” Jim says.

Nuclear medicine was a natural topic because it’s a huge part of modern health care. In the United States alone, nuclear medicine is used to diagnose or treat 55,000 people every day, he says.

Many partners promoting events also advocate for nuclear energy to contribute a larger part of the nation’s electricity, so more discussion of those issues is needed, Jim says.

Jeanette says the designated week also provides a platform “for breaking down a little bit of the fear factor that goes with ‘nuclear.’”

“If people don’t have a strong science background, this is a way to sort of say OK, let’s take this step by step. There are ways to learn about nuclear; it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming, scary topic,” she says.

National founding partners included in the recognition week are ANS, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Arizona Public Service, Areva, Entergy, Exelon, and LES. National presenting partner organizations, which sponsor activities in their regions, are Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory, DOE, NEI, SNM, NA-YGN, and US Women in Nuclear. National corporate sponsors are the Albert I. Pierce Foundation, Energy Solutions Foundation, and Idaho National Laboratory.