Simpson Street Free Press is known for hosting academic panels and events throughout the year. Especially vital to the Free Press curriculum is our “Women in Science, Math, and Technology” series. This April, two nuclear engineering students from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s American Nuclear Society (ANS) came to SSFP’s South Towne newsroom to deliver another event in this series.
The two students, Drew Nigh and McKinleigh McCabe, began their visit with a very interesting and informative presentation. Their talk also included multiple hands-on demonstrations.
To help us understand how neutrons activate uranium atoms, for example, McKinleigh handed all of us long, thin balloons—like the ones you’d use to make a balloon animal. First, he instructed us to twist the balloons in half. Then, McKinleigh cut each balloon in half, which was easy because of how they were twisted. Every time he cut a balloon, both halves whirled in opposite directions. This demonstration shows how fission works. In terms of nuclear science, fission is the release of energy that occurs when uranium atoms are split.
Later on in the presentation, Drew gave each Free Press student three ping-pong balls, which represented neutrons. We had one objective: get rid of the neutrons. We all sat on the floor near one another to signify uranium atoms. Drew started the demonstration by throwing a few neutrons into the air. If the neutrons hit or landed near you, you then had to throw your own neutrons into the air. This illustrates the splitting of uranium atoms, which releases additional neutrons and spurs other uranium atoms to split, too. Ultimately, this chain reaction represents how energy is made in a nuclear reactor.
We all enjoyed the opportunity to talk with and learn from Drew and McKinleigh. They are excellent teachers and made information that is sometimes hard to understand seem simple! We are very grateful this experience and look forward to an ongoing partnership with ANS.