For First Time, Girls Join Boys to Earn Nuke Science Merit Badge at Air Force Technical Applications Center
By Space Coast Daily // July 6, 2019
In February, Boy Scouts of America began accepting girls from 5th grade through high school
BREVARD COUNTY • PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – For the sixth time in as many years, Boy Scouts from around Central Florida descended on the Air Force Technical Applications Center here to earn Scouting’s Nuclear Science Merit Badge.
What made this AFTAC-sponsored event different from the past half-decade was for the first time, girls were invited to participate with the boys to earn the uncommon badge.
In February, the Boy Scouts of America began accepting girls from 5th grade through high school into the newly-named program called Scouts BSA, which affords girls the same opportunities as boys.
On a recent picture-perfect Saturday morning, scientists and engineers from the nuclear treaty monitoring center volunteered their off-duty time to teach the scouts how to construct 3-D models of elements and isotopes, create cloud chambers, and illustrate the nuclear fission process.
The group of 93 inquisitive boys and girls also learned about ALARA – as low as reasonably achievable. The acronym is a safety principle used by radiation professionals to ensure they take every reasonable step to minimize exposure when working around radiological material.
Accompanied by their respective troop leaders, the scouts began the day at Patrick AFB’s education center.
Lt. Col. James Thomas, commander of the AFTAC’s radiochemistry lab, welcomed the group and gave a brief overview of what the children could expect throughout the day.
From there, several briefers presented pertinent information about atoms, the periodic table, nuclear energy, and particle accelerators to meet Scouting’s requirements to earn the badge.
After the obligatory classroom briefings, the scouts were broken up into small groups for the hands-on portion of the agenda. In one room, the kids were given different colored mini marshmallows and toothpicks to build atomic models. Room two had the scouts creating cloud chambers using Petri dishes, felt and construction paper.
“One of the best parts of this program is the actual hands-on portion of the agenda,” said Troy Porter, an AFTAC equipment maintenance technician and Scout Master for Troop #314 in West Melbourne.
Porter was also the primary coordinator of the event, serving as the conduit between the visiting troops and the Air Force volunteers.
Ranging in age from 11 to 17, scouts represented 22 troops in the region, making this year’s event the most diverse compared to past years that AFTAC hosted.
After the model building exercises, the group convened at AFTAC’s outdoor pavilion for lunch and to network with some of the center’s scientists and engineers.
Once the pizza and soft drinks were devoured by the burgeoning scientists, the scouts were divided up into six groups to tour the Air Force Radiochemistry Lab.
Ryan Malave, an 8th grader at Osceola School of the Arts, has been a scout since 1st grade and has his sights set on becoming an Eagle Scout, the pinnacle of achievement for a Boy Scout.
“I really love science and when I heard our troop had a chance to come here and earn this badge, I jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
“I want to be an aeronautical engineer someday, and participating in things like this really interest me. I’ve learned a lot about atoms – it’s been great!”
Ryan made the trip from Osceola County with his mom Schuyler, dad Raymond, and his older brother Ray. His parents are also Assistant Scout Masters with Troop 192.
“We knew the AFTAC merit badge event had limited availability, and it’s a rare badge to be able to earn from people actually in the field, so we made sure our troop was included when the invitations went out,” said Raymond.
“We are wholly impressed with what we’ve seen and very much appreciate what everyone is doing to make this program so enjoyable as well as educational. I wish I could have experienced this when I was a boy!”
Within the radiochemistry lab, the scouts visited the sample receipt room, the count room, mass spectrometry, and observed the effects of liquid nitrogen on everyday items like rubber balls and carnations.
David Sutter, a 7th grader from McNair Magnet Middle School in Rockledge, Fla., enjoyed the day’s events.
“I really had a great time!” the 13-year-old scout said with a broad smile on his face. “I love going on field trips like this when you get to do things with your hands. It’s a lot more fun than sitting at home, and I’m excited about earning a new badge. I want to be an engineer someday, but I don’t think I’ll be a nuclear engineer. All this atom stuff doesn’t make sense to me!”
Nancy Sutter traveled with her son to observe the program and watch David earn the prestigious badge. She also expressed her appreciation to the AFTAC volunteers.
“Thanks to the staff for putting on a wonderful program and giving the boys and girls an awesome opportunity to learn about nuclear science and some of the day-to-day activities at the Air Force base,” she said.
After the tours were complete, the groups regathered at the pavilion where Porter and his team reviewed each scout’s notes to ensure all criteria were met to earn the badge.
The counselors also asked the participants one question about what they learned before their official blue card could be signed off.
“A lot of behind the scenes planning and preparation brought this event together, and without the help of all the volunteers who took time out of their weekend schedule, it definitely wouldn’t have been the success it was,” said Porter.
“It’s definitely no easy task to guide young minds along the path of comprehending this level of science, but the folks here at AFTAC are really experts in their fields and did well to inform and inspire our local youth. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Schuyler Malave heaped praise on Porter and all the Airmen who took the time to educate the visiting scouts.
“On behalf of Troop 192, we want to thank you for a well-planned and executed event,” she said.
“As an experienced BSA assistant scoutmaster, it was clear to see from start to finish that the AFTAC team is made up of knowledgeable professionals who take pride in their work. They did an exemplary job! Our scouts learned so much and had fun. That’s not an easy task for older scouts this day and age. You can read a book all day on a subject, but a hands-on site with actual nuclear science personnel allowed for absorption and experience they won’t soon forget.”
She added, “I hope the AFTAC team can continue this program for years to come because their influence and passion has enlisted a path to a career for my son Ryan. Thank you!”
The Nuclear Science Merit Badge is earned by less than one percent of scouts worldwide.
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