Students explore atoms, elements during Nuclear Science Week

October 19, 2017 GMT

Seventh-graders from Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta journeyed to the center of the atom Wednesday as part of Nuclear Science Week.

During the morning, students learned about protons and neutrons and created a three-dimensional model of the periodic table of elements working with Dr. Gary Senn, director of USC Aiken’s Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.

Later, the students focused on the structure of atoms and learned how electrons work and how the periodic table is organized. Then, during a hands-on program titled “Mixing Matter,” they combined compounds together to witness chemical change.

“Our area is so focused on nuclear science with the Savannah River Site and Plant Vogtle,” Senn said. “Nuclear Science Week gives an opportunity to highlight the real advantages we have in our area with that focus.”

Many of the students who participate in Nuclear Science Weeks programs at the Ruth Patrick Center have relatives who work locally in the nuclear industry, Senn said.

“Coming here to learn about things where their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles work adds to their excitement about learning about nuclear science,” he said.

Because the activities for Nuclear Science Week are so popular, the Ruth Patrick Center extends the celebration into a second week, Senn said, and student come from throughout the region.

“We’ve had kids from Wrens, Georgia, and Bamberg,” he said.

Other agencies participate, too, Senn said. Representatives from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory did a program on radioecology, which studies how radioactive substances interact with nature. Chemical engineers and other employees from the Savannah River Site also volunteer to teach programs.

“It’s great to see the community gather together,” Senn said.

Senn said Nuclear Science Week fits perfectly with the Ruth Patrick Center’s focus on STEM education.

“We are eager to help young people get excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics so that, hopefully, as they get older they will consider STEM as a career path,” he said.