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The Physics for Atomic Nuclei Program – My Experience

In July 2015 I had the chance to attend the Physics for Atomic Nuclei (PAN) program at Michigan State University, a one week course centered around the study of nuclear physics. Not only did this allow me to expand my horizons and increase my knowledge of the subject, but it also gave me a taste of what university would be like.

The PAN program is directed towards high school students between the ages of 16 and 18 who are interested in Physics for their post-secondary educational studies. Most of the students attend the program to decide whether or not they want to study physics, as it is a very rigorous subject that requires dedication. PAN also permits students to dabble in the field of nuclear physics, which I find fascinating. Not surprisingly, in my year, most of the students were from different regions of the United States, with only two of us being from abroad. Nevertheless, it is a great way to meet people who are amazingly talented and have the same interests as you.

Personally, I really liked the activities that were prepared. Each day of the week had a similar structure and yet, they were all so different. We started off with a small briefing of the schedule for the day, and after that a conference by a researcher followed. 

Each researcher was from a different field and explained what it was to work in their area of research. It was illuminating, as it introduced me to the many subdivisions of physics and led me to start thinking about what I would specialize in. At lunch time, the opportunity to have lunch with the speakers was presented, where we could discuss their work in an informal setting. Usually, in the afternoon we would have a lab activity. We conducted three lab activities during our stay: measurement of the half-life of the Barium-137 nucleus with a Geiger Müller counter, determination of an unknown substance using gamma spectroscopy, and finally playing around with a program which was used to study energies inside atomic nuclei. 

In conclusion, it was a wonderful experience and I really recommend it to any high school student who is considering going into physics. The week was not only full of science, but also of fun trips around campus or table tennis matches with the other participants in the lounge. One of the most exciting trips was the visit to the NSCL, a cyclotron facility on the MSU campus used to look for rare isotopes. Overall, it was an amazing week which pushed me to choose Physics as my major. You can find more information here.

Edited by Briana Fannin