iUrban Teen – Reed College Nuclear Reactor Research Tour

Each year we take a group of iUrban Teen youth to Reed College to learn about their nuclear reactor (yes a nuclear reactor) on their campus.  Two of our youth wrote about their experience and we’re love to share their experience with you. Thank you Trevor and Darren!!!  #STEMEd #Nuclear #iUrban Teen.


By Trevor Bosman

On Saturday, November 30th, 2019 I visited the Reed Research Reactor as part of an iUrban Teen event. We first participated in a lab measuring radiation of the material vanadium 52, the radioactive form of vanadium where we learned about the basics of radiation. We then went on a guided tour of the facility, and during the tour saw the reactor in operation and learned about how it is operated and how it is used.

Before the Vanadium Lab we listened to an introduction to radiation; we learned how radiation is the unstable form of an atom’s nucleus outputting alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Then during the lab we used specialised machines to measure the counts, a measurement of radioactivity, of the room around us. We measured the counts of the room 3 times and for 40 seconds at a time. Then we averaged this number. Then we used the machines to measure the counts of vanadium 52, for 40 seconds at a time, 13 times. Each time we would subtract the average counts of the room around us from our measurements of the vanadium, much like you would subtract the weight of the bowl used to weigh flour from the total weight, we would then record and graph our measurements and then we could see how the radiation dissipates exponentially.

During the tour of the facility, we learned how this reactor is incapable of actually creating harvestable power but it is instead a reactor designed for researching radiation. The operators explained how the reactor works. Some source of neutrons would be exposed to the fuel, uranium 235, and it would cause a nuclear reaction creating more and more neutrons at a rapid pace; and then the team operating the reactor would be able to place an object inside the core, where the reaction is taking place, to make it radioactive and then they could conduct experiments on that now radioactive object. To be able to control this reaction the operators could move 3 control rods made of boron in and out of the reactor core, the boron would then absorb any neutrons that came in contact with it so the reaction would not reach dangerous levels.

Thanks for a great experience!

By Darren Bosman

I enjoyed the nuclear reactor very much. I learned about how to read the radioactivity, get data about said level of radioactivity and how to write it down correctly. I also learned what they do with the neutrons; they produce radioisotopes or analyze the material of the samples. I learned that is the only research reactor in the world that is “owned and operated by an undergraduate educational institution”- Wikipedia. We also got to see the reactor which was very cool to see especially with the lights off, the blue glow was beautiful and even if you turn the reactor off you could still slightly see it. I learned about how the reactor works, what pipes go to what and how they shut it off, it was all very interesting. They also showed us the radioactivity detector, and how safe it is.