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Book on Atomic Energy for Kids

Updated on August 20, 2014

When I was in sixth grade, my folks made a trip to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This is one of a handful of towns that was devoted primarily to the development of atomic energy and related research, in the United States. My father had some kind of business there; he was a computer programmer at the time. While he was meeting with people, my mother took us to a museum, and while we were there, she bought a book for me. It was this book.

THIS BOOK IS PRICELESS FOR KIDS WHOSE PARENTS WANT THEM TO UNDERSTAND THE BASICS OF ATOMIC ENERGY. If you yourself never understood it, but would like to, it's a good book for you as well.

It's out of print, unfortunately. And that's why the image doesn't display here, though it is on Amazon. But if you want your child to have a background in this field, grab a used copy while you can. Maybe someday they'll reprint it.

While I was there and after I got home, I devoured the book. The explanations are very clear. And when I got back into school, I told the class all about atomic energy. The teacher was even befuddled on the subject. I imagine I came across as some kind of geek. That's OK. I AM a geek!

Unfortunately, that only made the persecution of other students worse. I was always the one everyone else picked on. But I didn't care. It had opened up a whole new world for me.

For the next several years, I devoured every book on the subject I could find in the school library. I finally met my match when I attempted to read Sourcebook on Atomic Energy by Samuel Glasstone. That one gets pretty technical. But hey, if your child is up to it, let him have at it! It's more readily available, but a new copy is very expensive (heaven only knows why!)

Another thing that sparked my interest is that my family (myself included) lived in Los Alamos, the OTHER atomic city, for two years. That was a very interesting place to live, and I loved it.

At that point, in high school, I set my sights on a possible PhD so I could go into the field of nuclear physics. I knew I had to have two foreign languages, and at the time, during the Sputnik era, Russian was considered a very important technical language. So I took Russian, and fell in love with the language. I learned Russian well enough in high school to test out of a year of college Russian, and ended up taking additional courses in Russian, for a total of 19 credits (one shy of a minor). One of my courses, on Russian grammar, was held IN Russian, and I did just fine. Also during this time, I happened to make a train trip, and there was a Polish couple sitting across the aisle. I struck up a conversation with them, and they gave me some wonderful Polish pastries. It didn't take me long to discover they knew Russian, so we had a conversation.

My interest continued all through high school, and when I was a freshman (of the female gender) in college, I declared a physics major. Unfortunately, the very first thing you study in the introductory physics course is vectors. I HATE VECTORS! And we had physics lab. My performance was so bad that even the Finagle Factor wouldn't fix my results (for those who are unaware, the Finagle Factor is a quantity you use to multiply your results by so they turn out the way they are supposed to. Inside joke.) And I joined the physics club, and because I was the only female in the club, they voted me for secretary. That is definitely NOT my alley, so I didn't do anything. Pretty sexist, if you ask me. During the first semester, I dropped out. In the meantime, I realized that if I was going to go into this as a career, I had to neglect the other things I was interested in. At the time, I wanted to learn more languages because of my success with Russian, and I was taking music courses and piano lessons, and I didn't want to give up that, either.

In spite of the fact I am no longer aiming for any professional role in physics, I retain my interest. It never hurts to have many interests and know at least a little about each.

So even if your child doesn't end up doing anything with this subject, it is still a good idea to expose him or her to this knowledge. And this is the perfect book for that purpose.


(Now if for some reason, that still doesn't float your boat, try this. Find out what your child is interested in, and make sure he has reading material on that subject.) Some years ago, I went to a meeting of homeschoolers. A new woman came. She was Hispanic and bilingual, and had a son 16 years old, if I recall correctly. He was illiterate, and she wanted to homeschool him, but because she had been labeled retarded (probably because of language problems), she had never been taught enough to get a real high school diploma, so she didn't know how even to start. I asked her what her son was interested in, and she said, "Bodybuilding." I said, "Find all the magazines and books you can on bodybuilding, and leave them lying around." She did, so I am told, and a couple of years later, he had gotten his GED and joined the Marines. It is important to note that the Marines have some high enlistment requirements, so that meant he had made up his deficit and then some. So if "atomic energy" doesn't do it, find out what will.

There are many reasons why parents should seek to get their children interested in some field of learning. The first reason, to my mind, is to make sure you spend time with them on something meaningful. Don't be afraid to lead them in the direction of your personal interests. Time was when boys expected to apprentice to their fathers, and that meant making a career of whatever their fathers did. Certainly encouraging interests in common with yours is just as valid. If you have no special interests, develop some.

It is a very good idea also because it encourages the kids to get fascinated by something wholesome. I spent the afternoon with a teenager from out of town who was into birding, and very knowledgeable. He had been doing it for some time. I haven't heard how he developed the interest in the first place, but he has something interesting to do, a ready community (birders), and he will make something of his life. It might or might not lead to a career in ornithology. It doesn't matter either way. We still keep in touch a little.

My interest in nuclear physics was an offshoot of something my father was doing in pursuit of a living. It wasn't exactly what he was doing, but the opportunity presented itself because he WAS pursuing something of interest to himself, part of his career.

When you do interest your child in something, stay away from fables (for example, the theory of evolution). Make sure that everything you present is honest and real. With evolution, it's fairly easy to tell. It's speculation, with no chance of the replication required in science, and it doesn't even make sense. And yes, it's possible to pursue a scientific field without buying into such things. You may not be able to talk about it much, but it wouldn't have contributed anything of value to your pursuits anyway. In fact, getting sidetracked can take a lot of time away from something truly useful, and getting involved in it can lead to some very unhealthy pursuits, such as trying to re-design plants with genetic engineering techniques, as if they were nothing more than something you can write down on a page of fiction.

End of public service announcement. :)

Resources available on Amazon:

Sourcebook on Atomic Energy

Samuel Glasstone

Here is the more technical book I have described. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not as bad as something written for professionals in the field, but it is plenty challenging. It contains some mathematical discussion. Nuclear physics involves a lot of math.

Marie Curie (Giants of Science)
by Kathleen Krull

Mme Curie gave her life for science. She worked during an era where the dangers of radiation poisoning were unknown, and eventually died as a result of her work on radium.

A girl will enjoy reading about a famous woman in the field, Marie Curie. She discovered radium. In those days, people didn't understand how dangerous radiation is, so eventually her exposure to radiation killed her. But she is an excellent role model for budding female nuclear physicists. I don't remember exactly which book I read, so I chose this one, which is readily available.

The third book looks intriguing. Is this an answer to some of our questions? This one is for you, the parent, or other adult.

Super Fuel

by Richard Martin

Thorium may yield a safe source of nuclear power that cannot be converted to weapons.

Have you ever been interested in nuclear physics? Tell me how you react to this review. If you haven't been interested before, do you feel differently now?

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