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Re: build a reactor in a day?

FYI, some additional detail from

Mike Mokrzycki

One of the items required that students build a
                         breeder reactor, a nuclear energy source which
                         radiation from its reaction to create more fuel.
Two physics
                         students from the Mathews team successfully built
the device
                         and completed the item, inspired by the efforts
of a Michigan
                         high school student reported in a recent issue of

                         "I give Mathews House a tremendous amount of
credit for
                         the breeder reactor. This fell into the category
of exceeding
                         my expectations-- that was definitely one of the
highlights for
                         me," Howe said.

                         Using the naturally radioactive element Thorium,
fourth year
                         students in the College Fred Neill and Justin
                         contructed the device with scraps of discarded
                         and carbon sheets.

                         "We used Thorium... and turned it into weapons
                         uranium and plutonium. We used the powder from
                         tubes, and just scraped the Thorium powder off
the insides.
                         As for materials for the reactor, we used
aluminum and
                         carbon sheets which came out of the garbage. We
did a little
                         polishing and black magic, and turned it into a
reactor," Neill

                         While the actual construction of the reactor took
four hours,
                         Neill said that the most challenging aspect of
the assignment
                         was proving that the device operated correctly.

                         "If someone looks at a pile of aluminum and
carbon, they'll
                         say you're full of it. You have to actually prove
it... So we
                         did some fairly intensive research on the nuclear
                         disintegration that goes on inside the reaction
-- it gives off a
                         specific energy of photon that's released which
proves that
                         we've created weapons grade uranium. But they're
very hard
                         to detect, so we borrowed a proportional counter,
which is
                         like a Geiger counter, except much more
sensitive, from the
                         Physics department," Neill said.

                         To verify the authenticity of the breeder
reactor, Scavenger
                         Hunt judges brought in a nuclear physicist to
examine the
                         device and determine whether the students had
                         constructed the reactor.

                         "When the judges found out that there was a group
                         actually built one, they really flipped out... So
we're sitting
                         there making the reactor by my bed and a judge
calls and
                         says they're going to check this out and bring a
                         physicist to verify it. I don't think he [the
nuclear physicist]
                         understood that we were serious until we started
                         him through it and talking about decay change --
his eyes
                         just bugged out. He was really speechless,"
Kasper said.
                         "He endorsed it for the judges. It was funny
because the
                         judges were there taking notes just in case they
needed to be
                         able to judge another reactor."

                         Although some judges and fellow Mathews teammates
                         concerned over the safety of the reactor, Kasper
said that he
                         and Neill took serious precautions during its

                         "It was all very well-controlled. We packed the
                         built a shed, and assembled it there... We've
stopped the
                         reaction. We only detected about several thousand
atoms of
                         Uranium, so it's not like the source is
radioactive by any
                         means anymore. We might keep the reactor as a
souvenir --
                         as long as the components are far apart, it
should be okay,"
                         he said.

                         Although the equipment that the pair borrowed to
detect the
                         Uranium was worth thousands of dollars, the
materials used
                         to make the reactor cost the team nothing, making
the device
                         an ideal Scavenger Hunt item because it relied on
                         rather than money, according to Kasper.

                         "I think it was a really great item because it
didn't cost
                         anything, which is important. I mean, the
Manhattan project
                         cost one billion WWII dollars, and we were able
to do this
                         successfully without spending too much," Kasper

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