The Atomic Energy Merit Badge

My Atomic Energy Merit Badge.

Chapter 17 of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology discusses nuclear physics and nuclear medicine. I began studying nuclear physics fifty years ago. It all started in the Boy Scouts.

Troop 96, Morrison, Illinois.

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.

My Scout Handbook.

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.

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.

My Order of the Arrow sash
My 18 merit badges (left to right, then top to bottom): Stamp Collecting, First Aid, Music, Swimming, Cooking, Canoeing, Rowing, Camping, Reading, Citizenship in the Nation, Emergency Preparedness, Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the World, Atomic Energy, Scholarship, Fish and Wildlife Management, Pioneering, and Environmental Science. Those with a silver rim are required for Eagle.

Originally published at on March 8, 2019.

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.