Archive for the ‘ReActions’ Category:

October 2013







Fusion: Scientists Move Closer to Ignition

Scientists and engineers have long wanted to develop technology enabling them to utilize fusion reactions as a source of controlled power. Why? Fusion has the potential to provide very large amounts of energy. The challenge has been that attempts to harness fusion in a controlled reaction have required the input of more energy than was released during the fusion. Recent reports indicate that work at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is moving researchers forward in their quest for a self-sustaining, controlled fusion reaction.


Researchers at NIF focus 192 laser beams, all at the same time, on a target container called a hohlraum (a German word meaning “hollow room”) about the size of a pencil eraser. The hohlraum holds a small super-cooled capsule of two hydrogen isotopes — deuterium and tritium. When the lasers are fired — in nanosecond (billionth-of-a-second) pulses – they deliver an enormous amount of energy and power. This heats and compresses the hydrogen isotopes so much that fusion takes place

Recently, the NIF completed a test which suggests that there is one significant challenge yet to overcome. That challenge? The capsule containing the deuterium and tritium breaks apart prematurely. As a result the research team is working to design an improved capsule for the hydrogen isotopes.

The researchers are encouraged by the results so far, but have a significant challenge to overcome before they achieve ignition.


Fusion – a nuclear reaction in which two atoms fuse and form a new kind of atom in which the two original atoms are combined.

Ignition – a point at which the fusion reaction produces more energy than is needed to initiate it


Explore these resources for more information about the National Ignition Facility.

What is NIF? 

Recent news releases from NIF

Access a gallery with interesting videos from NIF

The seven wonders of NIF

Inertial Confinement Fusion: How to Make a Star

More related images

Other places to read about the NIF milestone

Video of Countdown to a Laser Shot

Video: NIF as Featured on BBC

Ion Engine Sets Record for Test Duration

An advanced engine design from NASA completed 48,000 hours of operation – that’s five and one-half years — making it the longest test duration for any space propulsion system demonstration. The test was voluntarily ended even though the thruster was still operational because the test had exceeded requirements for anticipated space missions.

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

This type of propulsion system would reduce the amount of fuel that would be required for space missions, allowing increased science payload without huge increases in the overall size of the vehicle.


Read more about the engine test from NASA

About the xenon ion engine

Article about how another ion engine may enable long trips in space with less time

Article about potential for “quick trips” to Mars using fusion engines

Increasing Oil Content of Plant Leaves

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have identified the genes required to enhance oil production and accumulation in plant leaves. By managing the expression of these genes, researchers were able to increase oil content in leaves. Knowledge and application of this technique will make it possible to increase the energy content of plant-based foods and renewable biofuel.

Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory Overexpressing the gene for PDAT, an enzyme involved in oil production, caused plant leaves to accumulate large amounts of oil in large globules (left). When scientists also added a gene for olesin, a protein known to encapsulate oil droplets, clusters of smaller, more stable droplets formed (right).

Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory
Overexpressing the gene for PDAT, an enzyme
involved in oil production, caused plant leaves to
accumulate large amounts of oil in large
globules (left). When scientists also added a
gene for olesin, a protein known to encapsulate
oil droplets, clusters of smaller, more stable
droplets formed (right).

Studies were done using laboratory plants. Researchers hope the strategy can be transferred to crop plants which are used to feed livestock or generate renewable energy, increasing energy content and nutritional value.

Researchers found that disabling the gene for an enzyme known as PDAT had no effect on oil production in seeds, but it dramatically decreased oil production in leaves. But, overexpressing the gene for PDAT resulted in a 60-fold increase in oil production in leaves.

In further experiments, the researchers overexpressed a gene that caused extra production of a protein which kept the oil droplets from fusing together. When the two genes were both overexpressed, there was a 160-fold increase in oil production.

By using radio-labeled carbon (C-14), researchers were able to decipher the biochemical mechanism for increased oil production.

One researcher noted that leaves produced with overexpression of PDAT would provide almost twice the oil yield, by weight, that can be obtained from canola seeds, one of the widely used crops for food and biodiesel  production.

More research will be required to apply the techniques to bioenergy or food crops. Work is now being done to explore the effect of gene overexpression in biomass crops such as sugarcane.

Read more…

Pioneers in Nuclear Field: Hahn, Meitner, and Strassman

Among the pioneers in nuclear science is a trio of people who first realized that the uranium atom could be split by bombarding it with neutrons. The trio? Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassman were those pioneers.Early in his career, Hahn isolated radioactive thorium. Lise Meitner was just the second woman to receive a doctorate in science from the University of Vienna in 1905. Eventually, the team of Meitner and Hahn worked with Strassman. They were deeply involved in studies of the products resulting from neutron bombardment of uranium.Read more about their work and how World War II impacted their lives and work at

Research Activity for Your Students

Constructing a Time Line of Developments in Nuclear Science


Learn about the early development of atomic and nuclear science

Develop teamwork by sharing information

Use standard library resources such as an encyclopedia, specialized science encyclopedia, or reference materials. A computer and internet access will provide quicker access to many resources.  Read More…

What is the Higgs?

The link below will take you to a simplified explanation of what the Higgs boson is. Black and white drawings lead you step-by-step to an improved understanding of the Higgs.

September 2013

September 2013









In This Issue
Teach Nuclear? To Whom?
Your Brain on Sugar
An Artificial Leaf?
Tabletop Accelerator
ANS Teacher Workshop
Activity for Your Students
More for You


Teach Nuclear?
To Whom?
Is nuclear science too complex to teach to middle school and high school students? Does it makes sense to teach this topic at these grade levels? Are there good reasons we should? A former high school teacher and university professor gives you her view. Read more.


Nuclear Science Week
October 21-25, 2013  For information about the week
and ideas for activities to recognize the importance of nuclear science and technology in daily life
go to


Your Brain on Sugar

Study Shows the Brain’s Response to Sugar Differs for

Insulin-Sensitive and Insulin-Resistant People

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Was Research Tool

Obesity and diabetes are significant health concerns in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that one-third of Americans are obese. In addition, according to estimates by the American Diabetes Association, about 26 million Americans are living with diabetes and 79 million are thought to be pre-diabetic. Insulin resistance is one of the factors contributing to the development of obesity and diabetes.

The health complications that come with obesity and diabetes have helped motivate a host of research efforts to find better ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Using positron emission tomography (PET), researchers have captured images that demonstrate differing brain responses to the consumption of sugar by people who are insulin-resistant compared to those who have normal insulin sensitivity. Those people in the study who were insulin resistant–a metabolic syndrome considered a precursor to type-2 diabetes–produced lower-than-normal amounts of dopamine in a major pleasure center of the brain, in response to a sugary drink.

These three views of the brain show reward areas where differences between dopamine release were detected with insulin-sensitive versus insulin-resistant patients, when both groups were given a sugary drink prior to a PET scan.

Animal studies have previously shown that ingestion of sugar leads to release of dopamine in pleasure centers of the brain.

Researchers are considering the possibility that the brain of an insulin-resistant individual has a chemical deficiency in the reward system. One thought is that the lower release of dopamine into the reward system is part of a complex biochemical system which leads to overeating and obesity


Although this is the first clinical study of its kind with humans, other studies with rodents have demonstrated the lack of adequate dopamine production may lead to overeating and contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Researchers hope that the research could assist in the development of new interventions for insulin-resistant patients.


Read the full news release from Brookhaven National Laboratory at

What is insulin resistance?

What is a positron?

What is Positron Emission Tomography?,P07654/

Other Information about Imaging and PET




Shortening the Trip to Mars

Shortening the Time for a Trip to Mars
Nuclear Fusion Rockets?

NASA Photo

Mankind’s fascination with Mars is well known. Scientists and the general public have been captivated by the recent exploits of the fission powered Mars rover, Curiosity. (See previous ReActions article at

A manned mission to Mars is a dream of many. But, such a mission would present technical challenges. The supplies for a 500 day trip would present a significant challenge in weight and cost. However, a group of scientists at University of Washington has calculated that a fusion rocket could get astronauts to Mars in as little as 30 days. (Read more at

Despite several decades of work and large expenditures, researchers have not yet been able to develop a fusion reactor that produces more energy than it consumes. So, it doesn’t seem likely that fusion rockets will be put to use very soon. However, it is thought that research into how fusion might be utilized in a spacecraft engine could contribute to success with fusion research.


Fusion — Combining (fusing) the nuclei of two light atoms into one heavier nucleus (a process that releases an enormous amount of energy; more energy than from fission). This requires a very high temperature, as in our sun.


What does NASA say about a nuclear fusion rocket?

How would a nuclear fusion rocket work? How long to get to Mars?

Other related videos are available at



Power from an Artificial Leaf?
From MIT News web
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Chemist Daniel Nocera has developed an “artificial leaf” — a wafer made of silicon coated with catalysts — which releases hydrogen and oxygen from water in the presence of sunlight. Nocera envisions his creation as a way to power the world with clean energy. The gases released by Nocera’s “artificial leaf” could be used in fuel cells.

Nocera hopes that one day his invention may enable people to operate their homes “off the grid.” Powering a small home might eventually be possible with the artificial leaf, a couple of bottles of drinking water and sunlight.

At the present time, cost of the catalyst materials is a factor which limits the feasibility of wide usage. Nocera recently replaced platinum as the catalyst for hydrogen production with a less expensive compound of nickel-molybdenum-zinc. He continues to search for ways to reduce the amount of silicon required.

Film makers Jared P. Scott and Kelly Nyks produced a three minute film, “The Artificial Leaf,” which showcases chemist Daniel Nocera and his invention. The film won 2nd place in GE Focus Forward, a competition for short films. To view the “The Artificial Leaf”, go to


Who is Daniel Nocera?

Watch an MIT produced video of Daniel Nocera

Read about Nocera’s work on the artificial leaf and a related prediction

View a report on Nocera’s work prepared by BBC.


Tabletop Accelerator

Physicists Develop Tabletop Particle Accelerator

Downsizing Opens New Chapter in Research

A newly developed tabletop particle accelerator has been used to accelerate about half a billion electrons to 2 GeV over a distance of about one inch. Such energy has previously required a conventional accelerator that is approximately 200 meters long, according to a news release from University of Texas at Austin where physicists built the new device.


Creators of the table top accelerator expect 10 GeV accelerators of a few inches in length to be developed in a few years. Mike Downer, professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences at University of Texas at Austin, believes 20 GeV accelerators of similar size will be developed in a decade.

This type of device is seen as having the potential to transform research capabilities for chemists and biologists. According to Downer, a tabletop X-ray laser would enable chemists and biologists to study the molecular basis of matter and life with precision and femtosecond time resolution, the time scale on which molecules vibrate and the fastest chemical reactions take place. And, they could do this in their own laboratories, while currently they must travel to a larger national laboratory.

Developers utilized the Texas Petawatt Laser to assist with their development.

To learn how the tabletop device works, go to


What is a femtosecond?

What is a petawatt?



Teach Nuclear Science with Confidence

Attend ANS Teacher Workshop

November 9, 2013 – Washington, DC

(near Woodley Park-Zoo metro stop)

ANS will offer a full-day workshop for teachers,Detecting Radiation in Our Radioactive World,
Saturday, November 9, 2013, in Washington, DC.This workshop will introduce the basics of radiation and radioactivity, explain how nuclear powered electrical generation works, discuss other applications of nuclear science and technology, and provide attendees experience with hands-on activities which they can use in their classrooms.18

Attendees who complete the workshop will receive a Civil Defense surplus analog radiation monitor for classroom demonstrations.Workshop presenters are professional members of the American Nuclear Society who work in education, industry, and national laboratory settings. Workshop registration includes continental breakfast and lunch.

Attendees will have an opportunity to win an exciting new tool for teaching about the Chart of the Nuclides. This new hands-on activity — the Isotope Discovery Kit — helps engage students in learning about the differences between stable and less stable isotopes in the Chart of Nuclides. The developer of the Isotope Discovery Kit, William Wabbersen,will be a presenter at the workshop. The kit to be given to a lucky recipient has a retail value of approximately $600.00.

Early registration is available through October 4 at a reduced price of $95.00. Save 36%.

From October 5 through October 21, registration will be $149.00

Register at



Online Activity for Your Students

Exploring Resources at

Your students can learn a great deal about nuclear science and technology using the internet. You can give them the gentle push that gets them exploring .the new web site provided by the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information.

At you will find some useful resources. That page gives you opportunities to access materials prepared for teachers or students, or to explore ideas for science projects. As a start, you may want to explore the teacher materials and the student pages.

How you can utilize this collection of materials

A section of the new web site — titled, KNOW NUKES — contains biographical information about some of the pioneers in the nuclear field who made significant discoveries. You and your students will find names as familiar as Bohr, Rutherford, Einstein, and Edison. You may read about contributions they made to nuclear science, including contributions that are not familiar to you. You will also find names which are not as familiar — names like Becquerel, Evans, Meitner, or Hahn. You may discover some impressive contributions made by those scientists who are less familiar to you.

You could structure a student activity around having students learn about these people and then asking the students to construct a time line or sequence of discoveries.

At the bottom of the KNOW NUKES page, you will find clusters of information, grouped under these topics: Science, Technology, Applications, and Nuclear Matters.As you peruse these pages, you are likely to find several themes which you can use to expand the students’ knowledge and understanding of nuclear applications -applications which go far beyond energy.

Career opportunities abound in the nuclear field. There are jobs for scientists with advanced degrees, engineering positions for students who graduate with a four year degree, excellent jobs for well trained technicians who have a two year degree with a special focus, and opportunities for skilled machinists, welders, and other trades people. You can have your students explore the CAREER related pages of to discover the breadth of opportunities. You could ask students to identify jobs in the nuclear industry for people with an interest in biology and medicine, an interest in environmental science and ecology, a passion for arts and archeology, etc.


Familiarize students with key words. The pages of

are filled with information about the science, technology and application of nuclear materials. You could provide students with a list of terms or phrases that you want them to understand. Then, challenge them to find the meanings or explanations on these pages.

Other Challenges

Here are some other challenges you might give to students, using the resources of

What is non-ionizing radiation? What are some uses of non-ionizing radiation?

What are the three main types of ionizing radiation? How do we minimize our exposure to radiation?

How are fission and fusion different from each other? What do they have in common?

The term “Cold Pasteurization” is used to refer to what application of nuclear? What is the purpose of this application of nuclear energy?

Is there any evidence that suggests the human body adjusts to higher levels of radiation? Please explain or give examples.

How is a pressurized water reactor different from a boiling water reactor? What are the principles of safety in designing a reactor?

Medical applications of nuclear require some very specific isotopes. In what ways are these isotopes produced?

You may find other challenges to present to students as they use this web resource. You can utilize the site as an introduction to nuclear topics, as a way to expand knowledge, or as a review tool.We hope you and your students have fun learning at .




Also of Interest

A few other news bits caught our attention. You may enjoy them too!

Fans of TV’s “Star Trek” will remember warp-drive. Is this still just science fiction? Read more. And don’t forget to check out the video.

In April/May 2013 issue of ReActions, we provided information about the discovery of the Higgs Boson. We’ve found a video from 2011 (before confirmation of the discovery). It provides a wealth of information about atomic structure and the process for gathering data about the Higgs Boson. The video is a bit lengthy (57 minutes), but you may really enjoy it. Take me to the video.

To view films from the GE Focus Forward competition, go to




Featured Article


Why teach middle school and high school students

about nuclear science and technology?

by Dr. Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

I believe that there is a way to teach every level of student something about even the most complex topics. Nuclear science and technology is no exception.

Humankind’s development as a society is linked to changes in how we have used energy and the type of energy we utilize. At one time everything was accomplished by the simple brute force of a human. Later we used machines as simple as levers — powered by humans and other animals. Eventually, mankind developed mechanical devices that utilize power released from chemical change. Today, we have the capability to use energy from the nucleus of an atom.

Every day we develop new understandings of how we can utilize the energy from the atomic nucleus in basic research, medicine, generating electricity, agriculture, improving manufacturing processes, and in other ways. Today’s students will be the engineers, doctors, and researchers of the future. They will need nuclear knowledge to continue innovations and improvements in health care, manufacturing, and agriculture, to name just a few fields. What we teach today will form the foundation for their future learning and understanding. Nuclear topics need to be a part of the mix.

If you think you don’t know enough about nuclear science to teach about it, we can help. The American Nuclear Society offers teacher workshops, printed materials, the ReActions newsletter and a web site with a wealth of information. In addition, there are Local Sections and Student Sections whose members are available as resources.

Dr. Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar, who previously taught math and physical sciences at the high school level, holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering and is Associate Chair of Nuclear Engineering at Idaho State University and a Research Scientist at Idaho National Laboratory. She currently serves as Chair of the ANS Communications Committee and is a regular presenter at ANS teacher workshops.She says her interest in nuclear topics began in a high school chemistry class.




(c )2013 American Nuclear Society. ReActions — teachers may may reproduce portions of the newsletter for classroom use or filing. Any communication dealing with this publication should be addressed to ReActions Editorial Staff, American Nuclear Society, 555 N. Kensington Ave., La Grange Park, IL 60526-5592; telephone 708-352-6611; email – outreach @



Early Bird Registration is now open for the Washington, DC Teachers Workshop.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
More information and registration is at
Reduced Price Registration Offer Expires October 4, 2013





April / May 2013




On October 8, 2013, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxellesand and Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”.  To learn more about their research, please visit the American Institute of Physics – 2013 Physics Nobel Prize Resources.

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