The campers who attended FSU-PC’s Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp should make the leaders of Florida’s post-Michael Panhandle hopeful

Campers measuring the dependence of radiation intensity on distance from a source on the first day of the Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp at FSU-PC.

I spent last week becoming more hopeful for the future of Florida’s post-Michael Panhandle.

Nineteen campers attended last week’s Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp for middle and high school students at Florida State University’s Panama City campus. Every one of them demonstrated scientific insight during the week. They were an impressive group of young people.

I assisted the camp’s lead teacher, Rutherford High School physics and math teacher Rachel Morris. The camp was supported by CENTAUR, a consortium of universities (including FSU) and national laboratories based at Texas A&M University and funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The camp was heavy with hands-on experiences using equipment like radiation monitors, sodium iodide gamma-ray detectors and atomic spectrometers. Quantum physics, the supply chain for medical isotopes and mass-energy equivalence were on the agenda along with many other topics. We also pushed hard on foundational skills like algebra and graphing.

Ironically, we lost a day-long field trip to Tallahassee to see the Fox Superconducting Accelerator Laboratory and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory because of the threat of Tropical Storm Barry. But we did have an outstanding field trip on Monday afternoon to HCA’s Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center to learn about nuclear medicine. Dr. Bob Bain spent a solid hour with the group explaining how he uses radioactive isotopes in his practice and answering questions from the campers.

The campers came from a broad range of backgrounds, and if the Panama City region has a future in science and technology then these students should be among the region’s leaders. And educators like Rachel Morris will be the unsung heroes of the region’s recovery.

That is something that the region’s economic leaders must keep in mind. In fact, while our camp group was convening on the second floor of FSU-PC’s Holley Center on Friday morning, the Bay County Chamber of Commerce was convening its monthly First Friday meeting in the meeting hall on the first floor (the real first Friday was the week before, but it was part of a holiday weekend). The Chamber has been holding their First Friday meetings since 1957, and they have become more urgent since the hurricane struck last October. In fact, Friday morning’s event featured Bay County’s Chief of Emergency Operations, Mark Bowen.

Seeing the impressively large group of Chamber members convening a floor before, I couldn’t help thinking that a truly forward-looking group would want to know about our campers one floor above and would be asking how to provide them – and other talented young people like them – with the opportunities necessary to fulfill their considerable potential. Bay District Schools has made impressive progress during the last several years providing those opportunities, but there is more work to do in the very challenging circumstances of the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

Hunting for radiation sources on the FSU-PC campus on the first day of the Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp.
Rutherford High School physics and math teacher and Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp lead teacher Rachel Morris leading a group of campers through a gamma-ray spectroscopy exercise on the second day of the camp.
Campers using diffraction gratings to see the discrete line spectrum emitted from a neon plasma lamp on the fourth day of the camp.
Campers in their diffraction glasses on the fourth day of camp.
Magnetic fields in solenoids on the fourth day of camp.
More atomic spectroscopy of neon – this time with an electronic spectrometer on the fifth day of camp.
Rutherford HS physics and math teacher and camp lead teacher Rachel Morris teaches the quark model on the fifth day of camp.
The Bay County Chamber of Commerce convenes its First Friday gathering one floor below the Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp on the fifth day of camp. If they only knew what was going on one floor above!
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