The Atomic Energy Merit Badge
When growing up in Morrison, Illinois, I was a member of the Cub Scouts and then the Boy Scouts. I enjoyed the camping, hiking, and canoeing. Each summer I spent a week at scout camp, and loved it. In the winter, we would have a Klondike Derby, which involved pushing a large sled over the snow and then camping in the cold. I was a member of Morrison’s Troop 96 and Mr. Glenn Van Eaton was our Scoutmaster; behind his back we called him “General Glenn.” One of my fondest memories was being inducted into the Order of the Arrow. At a campfire ceremony, several of us were “tapped-out” for initiation, which involved spending a night in the woods alone.
Between campouts, we earned merit badges. Some of them you’ld expect, such as first-aid, rowing, swimming, and pioneering (knot tying). Others examined adult topics, such as atomic energy. I found my old scout handbook — molding in a box in our basement — and looked up the requirements for the atomic energy merit badge. They are impressive. Completing this merit badge provides a good preparation for Chapter 17 of IPMB.
- Tell the meaning of the following: alpha particle, atom, background radiation, beta particle, curie, fallout, half-life, ionization, isotope, neutron activation, nuclear reactor, particle accelerator, radiation, radioactivity, roentgen, and X-ray.
- Make three-dimensional models of the atoms of the three isotopes of hydrogen. Show neutrons, protons, and electrons. Use these models to explain the difference between atomic weight and number.
- Make a drawing showing how nuclear fission happens. Label all details. Draw a second picture showing how a chain reaction could be started. Also show how it could be stopped. Show what is meant by “critical mass.”
- Tell who five of the following people were. Explain what each of the five discovered in the field of atomic energy: Henri Becquerel, Niels Bohr, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Ernest Lawrence, Lise Meitner, William Rontgen, and Sir Ernest Rutherford. Explain how any one person’s discovery was related to one other person’s work.
- Draw and color the radiation hazard symbol. Explain where it should be used and not used. Tell why and how people must use radiation or radioactive materials carefully.
- Do any THREE of the following:
- Build an electroscope. Show how it works. Put a radiation source inside it. Explain any difference seen.
- Make a simple Geiger counter. Tell the parts. Tell which types of radiation the counter can spot. Tell how many counts per minute of what radiation you have found in your home.
- Build a model of a reactor. Show the fuel, the control rods, the shielding, the moderator, and any cooling material. Explain how a reactor could be used to change nuclear into electrical energy or make things radioactive.
- Use a Geiger counter and a radiation source. Show how the counts per minute change as the source gets closer. Put three different kinds of material between the source and the detector. Explain any differences in the counts per minute. Tell which is the best to shield people from radiation and why.
- Use fast-speed film and a radiation source. Show the principles of autoradiography and radiography. Explain what happened to the films. Tell how someone could use this in medicine, research, or industry.
- Using a Geiger counter (that you have built or borrowed), find a radiation source that has been hidden under a covering. Find it in at least three other places under the cover. Explain how someone could use this in medicine, research, agriculture, or industry.
- Visit a place where X-rays are used. Draw a floor plan of the room in which it is used. Show where the unit is. Show where the unit, the person who runs it, and the patient would be when it is used. Describe the radiation dangers from X-rays.
- Make a cloud chamber. Show how it can be used to see the tracks caused by radiation. Explain what is happening.
- Visit a place where radioisotopes are being used. Explain by a drawing how and why they are used.
- Get samples of irradiated seeds. Plant them. Plant a group of nonirradiated seeds of the same kind. Grow both groups. List any differences. Discuss what irradiation does to seeds.
Build a Geiger counter? Mom would have vetoed that!
Working on the atomic energy merit badge may have been my initial exposure to physics; the first step in a long journey. Now it is called the nuclear science merit badge. Some of the requirements are the same, but there is more emphasis on radiation hazards (for example, radon) and nuclear medicine. Probably it is even better at preparing you for Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.
My dad made it to Eagle Scout when he was young, but I didn’t uphold the family tradition. I quit scouts with the rank of Life. Most boys enter high school and lose interest in scouting, but a few hang on and make it to Eagle. I was planning on being one of the few, but when we moved out of town after my sophomore year I didn’t restart with a new troop. Besides, I attended high school in the post-Vietnam/Watergate era, when scouting went out of fashion. Over the years, I came to disagree with the Boy Scouts’ positions on homosexuality and religion, so I don’t regret dropping out. But when I was a kid in Morrison, those issues never came up. We just had fun.
Originally published at hobbieroth.blogspot.com on March 8, 2019.