The University Record, September 8, 1992

Work at Nuclear Reactor laboratory pays off for high school student

By Nicole McKinney
Record Special Writer

Spending two afternoons a week throughout the school year and every day during the summer at a nuclear reactor may not excite every high school junior. But it’s paying off for Tekeshia Bailey.

Bailey, a work-study intern at the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, won the national gold medal in chemistry in the NAACP Afroamerican Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) held July 11 in Nashville, Tenn.

Bailey, a junior at Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, is a participant in the Minority and Female Laboratory and Training Program under R. Robert Burn, manager, Nuclear Reactor Lab, Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project.

Bailey attended a five-week laboratory course in nuclear reactor theory at the Phoenix lab in January 1991 before joining the intern program last September.

Under the direction of Burn, Project Director Ronald F. Fleming and operators at the Phoenix Laboratory, Bailey was introduced to several nuclear reactor-related concepts, including the process used in her winning project.

Bailey collected hair samples of 19 student volunteers and exposed them to radiation in the reactor to produce radioactive trace elements in each sample. Each set of elements produced became as identifiable as a fingerprint. The project’s goal was to identify an unknown person by matching hair samples.

“I needed an experiment for the competition that wasn’t overly complex so I could explain it in layman’s terms,” Bailey says. “I knew that I could do it and that I didn’t need to be a college student to get the physics behind it.”

The process, neutron activation analysis, requires a nuclear reactor and is typically used in criminal investigations, as well as to determine the presence of trace elements in the environment, Burn says.

Burn created the internship program in 1991 with funding from the Department of Energy, Consumers Power Co. and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“Several years ago, I realized there was a lack of women and minorities in the nuclear power field,” said Burn. “This program better prepares these kids to go to college, become an operator here at the lab, or to become an operator at an electric company.”

Four high school students participate in the program, which consists of four-hour lectures and laboratory sessions twice a week during the school year.

The Phoenix Laboratory also hosts another 10 students each year in the Summer Apprentice Program, sponsored by the Minority Engineering Programs Office and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“With $10,000 in funding for these programs, we’ve affected the lives of about 30 kids,” Burn says. “So far these programs have been working out nicely.”