As I mentioned Monday, I did some nuclear physics research. I started as a physics major, but at the end of my junion year decided to switch to theology. But, that gave me two summers doing nuclear research. Although it was my professor who was doing the main research, she would always have students helping her during her summer research times. Although a majority of the work was being a data monkey, working on the actual experiment was interesting.
Working with a two story tall Van de Graaff generator was kind of cool!
Univ. of Kentucky Accelerator description Page 1
Univ. of Kentucky Accelerator description Page 2
Basically, we'd get a beam of protons from the big modified Van de Graaff generator.
Then we'd bend them with a huge magnet.
Then we'd have the protons slam into a tritium sample, which would knock one of the neutrons of the tritium loose (making a helium isotope in the process).
These neutrons would then hit our target sample. On the atomic level, the neturons would hit the nuclei of the sample, and would give them some of the energy, which would excite them into a higher energy state.
Eventually, the nucleus would go back down to it's ground state and give off a gamma ray.
We would measure the gamma rays (the big copper looking camera thing in the link) and this along with knowing the initial energy of the neutrons, would help us figure out the various energy levels of the nucleus.
It's sort of like atomic billiards and measuring how loud the sound is that comes off the hits, to give a really weak analogy.
Pretty fascinating stuff though. The web is great to be able to find pictures of all this stuff since I never had a camera when doing the research.
As a side project, when we were waiting on somethings to be set up, we put my Russian military watch in front of the detector for about 24 hours.
I had gotten the watch in Berlin from a street vendor selling Soviet military stuff. We put it in front of the detector because I was really concerned that the luminescent points on the dial seemed to be pretty luminescent for much longer than I expected. So we tested it to see if it had any "abnormal" radiation, ie if it had radioactive paint on the dial. It didn't. So I should be safe.