Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp (NMSC)

Using general purpose survey meters, campers detect naturally occurring radio active materials

STEM Career Pathways

including careers in nuclear science

The Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training and University-Based Research (CENTAUR), funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration and in conjunction with the department of physics at FSU, piloted a one-week camp for middle and high school students the summers of 2018 and 2019. The free of charge camp, hosted by Florida State University Panama City, served 29 students during its inauguration. 

The camp emphasizes hands-on experiences using radiation counters, gamma-ray spectrometers and other experiences in nuclear and atomic spectroscopy.

The camp is designed to include two field trips – one to a nuclear medicine facility and the other to a nuclear research facility like the John D. Fox Superconducting Accelerator Facility at the FSU Physics Department in Tallahassee, which is about 100 miles away (a practical day trip on a school bus) from Panama City.

During the inaugural camp in July 2018, the camp was limited to rising 9th graders to reach campers before they made decisions that would remove them from the STEM pipeline, like shying from challenging high school courses in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus.

The effects of Hurricane Michael on the region fundamentally changed Panama City.

The community resources utilized by the camp were impacted by Hurricane Michael in the fall of 2018. The storm adversely affected the economy, population and psychology of the region. The number of students in the Bay County School District fell 12% after the storm. Thousands of residents remained homeless as the summer of 2019 began and many other families lived in severely damaged homes that were awaiting insurance settlements or construction work. Families that remained in Bay County were often preoccupied by the emotionally and financially taxing task of rebuilding instead of being focused on their children’s educational advancement. We were uncertain how the storm’s aftermath would affect recruiting of campers. As a result, the camp was opened to all middle and high school students resulting in a group of 19 campers ranging in age from 13 to 17, which provided a different challenge than the group of 13-year-olds we had in the summer of 2018.

The lead instructor of the team is a middle or high school teacher who is strong both in content understanding and in the skill of building relationships with and among students. The lead teacher for the Panama City camp during both summers was Rachel Morris, math and physics instructor Rutherford High School, the district’s lowest-income high school even before Michael, located in the most severely impacted area of Bay County.

Students use PASCO absorber set to evaluate materials

The PASCO absorber set provides students with an opportunity to use different shielding materials (from plastic to lead) and with different widths.

Satellite image of the 2018 hurricane, Michael
Tracking image of the 2019 hurricane, Barry

In the summer of 2018, we had two assistant instructors – one a recent physics bachelor’s degree graduate preparing to teach the following fall and the other a recent high school graduate preparing for college. We were unable to arrange for assistant instructors in the summer of 2019.

Paul Cottle, professor of physics at FSU in Tallahassee and a member of physics department’s nuclear physics program, was the final member of the instructional team. He was the camp’s nuclear science expert and a resource for the campers to build relationships with the lead teacher and assistant instructors.

The 2018 and 2019 camps differed in several ways due to the region’s vulnerability to tropical cyclones.

During the 2018 camp, students were able to spend half the day at Bay Medical Center of Panama City’s nuclear cardiology facility. The 2019 camp experience differed as the hospital (including the center’s nuclear cardiology facility) was severely damaged in the storm. The region’s surviving hospital, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center (GCRMC), was not able to accommodate a half-day visit during the summer 2019 camp. Instead, the campers visited GCRMC’s nuclear medicine facility late on the afternoon of the second day – leaving more classroom time for the campers early in camp week.

In the summer of 2018, the campers spent the entire fourth day of camp on a field trip to Tallahassee that included tours of the Fox Accelerator Laboratory and the FSU National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. The same field trip was planned for Thursday of 2019’s camp week. However, the trip was cancelled because of the threat from the 2019 storm, Hurricane Barry. That cancellation also resulted in having a great deal more classroom time.

The “lesson plan” intended for the Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp assumes the 2018 schedule that takes the greatest advantage of field trip opportunities and which was not impacted by hurricanes.

FSU Panama City and Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training and University-Based Research graphic

The Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training and University-Based Research (CENTAUR) piloted a one-week camp for middle and high school students in the summers of 2018 and 2019. The free of charge camp, hosted by Florida State University Panama City, served 29 students during its inauguration.