Great article on the Reed nuclear reactor

A great article in Atlas Obscura by Ella Morton about one of the unique aspects of science in Portland, the Reed College reactor that’s run by undergraduates:

Three years ago, as Ilana Novakoski was settling into her freshman year on campus at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, she saw “the most bizarre poster I’ve ever seen.” Written on it was a question that made little sense to her: “Do you want to be a nuclear reactor operator?”

Intrigued, Novakoski investigated, and discovered the poster was real and the question legitimate. As she was told during a tour of the reactor—led by a purple-haired man in a wizard hat—the liberal arts college is home to the only nuclear reactor in the world run by undergraduate operators.

The reactor, established in 1968, is used for research and analysis, both by students at the 1,400-person college and on behalf of outside agencies. It uses a process called Neutron Activation Analysis, in which a sample—liquid, solid, or gas—is placed in the reactor and made radioactive by being bombarded with neutrons. The elements of the irradiated sample each then emit distinctive gamma rays. By measuring these gamma rays, an experimenter can identify what elements are in a sample.

Click here to read the whole thing. Fascinating article on a really unique science/training experience in Portland.

— Jim

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