High-school students visit FRIB to learn about the Physics of Atomic Nuclei

28 July 2023

FRIB welcomed 24 high-school students from 11 states and Puerto Rico to the 30th annual Physics of Atomic Nuclei (PAN) program 24-28 July. Sponsored and organized by FRIB, PAN provides motivated high-school students with an authentic research experience while connecting them to current scientists and an inside view of academia.

More than 24 volunteers from FRIB, MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the MSU Museum assisted with lectures, activities, and experiments. Lectures included an overview of radiation detection, an exploration of the matter/antimatter disparity in the universe, and the history of nuclei created since the Big Bang. Students learned how to construct and evaluate nuclear models as well as the methods of nuclear chemistry, including isotope harvesting.

In the evenings, participants visited different parts of MSU while interacting with current research students.

PAN participants stayed a residence hall with chaperones who are current MSU physics students. These volunteers, along with several other undergraduates and graduate students, mentored the students by sharing their experience in the field and the path that led them to it. Many of the mentors were PAN alumni.

In post-survey data, participants commonly expressed that PAN:

  • Improved their understanding of science careers and gave a positive impression of higher education
  • Showed they can belong in physics research
  • Demonstrated that they don’t have to follow a “conventional” career path
  • Increased their confidence in transitioning to and succeeding in college
  • Increased their interest in pursuing STEM careers, particularly physics

Students, organizers, and volunteers were very pleased with the program. In the words of one student: “PAN was life-changing in the way that I saw careers and different parts of science. This program showed me that I really want to study science in college and inspired me to not be scared of new places since I’m coming from a different culture and language. I want to have the same experience that I had in PAN in college, it was definitely an unforgettable program that I will cherish forever.”

Another participant stated: “I have become more determined to pursue a career in physics. I know I will fail multiple times but the speakers’ stories really motivated me to overcome these challenges.”

Michigan State University operates the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams as a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics.