FSU Summer Camp Teaches Nuclear Science to Kids – Remotely
Nyssa posted on September 03, 2020 |
Like many events this year, FSU moved their student experience online.
From her home, a student of a summer camp devoted to nuclear energy controls a gamma-ray spectrometer located in the FSU campus. (Image courtesy of FSU.)
From her home, a student of a summer camp devoted to nuclear energy controls a gamma-ray spectrometer located in the FSU campus. (Image courtesy of FSU.)

COVID-19 restrictions preventing face-to-face learning experiences did not stop Florida State University (FSU) Panama City from holding its third annual Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp (NMSC) this summer for K-12 students. Like many student experiences this summer, the camp was held online.

Having the summer camp be effective online required some innovation and commitment to the cause, according to Paige Johnston, an instructor from Deane Bozeman School in Bay County.

“This experience opens many doors for other opportunities for our students to engage in high-level STEM education across different means and situations,” said Johnston. “It’s a great way to continue expanding the students’ knowledge of science outside of the typical classroom environment.”

The logistics behind going online required a technological feat. The online camp took advantage of FSU’s IT staff and its Virtual Lab. Each of the 19 student participants were shipped kits containing about $1,000 worth of equipment, including radiation monitors, radioactive sources and gamma-ray absorber kits.

Eighth-grade student uses nuclear camp equipment to perform measurements at home. (Image courtesy of FSU.)

Eighth-grade student uses nuclear camp equipment to perform measurements at home. (Image courtesy of FSU.)

FSU Panama City’s IT team mounted six gamma-ray spectroscopy stations online using FSU’s Virtual Lab, giving students the opportunity to “fingerprint” different radioactive sources. From their laptops, students controlled one of the spectrometer stations from their home. The camp also included virtual tours of two nuclear facilities in the U.S.: the Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The camp is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training and University-Based Research (CENTAUR), which is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration, and is completely free of charge to students. The idea is to help these students develop a passion for STEM before they face classes such as chemistry, physics and calculus.

“Every student deserves a chance to pursue a career in science or engineering if she or he chooses to do so,” said Dr. Paul Cottle, a physics professor at FSU who runs the camp. “Unfortunately, the pandemic is going to make it more difficult for many students to learn about and prepare for those careers. We decided to do the best we could to adapt the successful in-person nuclear camp we offered the last two years to an online format so that we could extend a lifeline to students who might otherwise lose the opportunity to pursue science or engineering careers because of COVID.”

The camp’s transition online mirrors many other events that have gone online due to COVID-19. In May 2020, Youth Science Canada (YSC) brought its national STEM fair online for the first time in its history due to COVID-19.

YSC used a project-based online platform, Make: Projects*, where students could showcase, share and give feedback on STEM projects they had spent their school year working on. Over 600 projects were submitted by more than 1,000 students creating a flourishing online community.

YSC hosts over 600 STEM fair projects from students across Canada using Make: Projects. Image on the left shows the Exhibit Hall, featuring all student projects. Image on the right showcases an award-winning student project.
YSC hosts over 600 STEM fair projects from students across Canada using Make: Projects. Image on the left shows the Exhibit Hall, featuring all student projects. Image on the right showcases an award-winning student project.

As the school year begins, more and more educators are searching for online alternatives that will still promote engagement and connection. At FSU, Dr. Cottle noted that this feat is not impossible. “This experience has been proof, to me, at least, that if you give strong K-12 teachers a reasonable level of resources they can do amazing things,” he said.


*Make: Projects is a joint venture between engineering.com and Make: co.


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