Argonne scientists have discovered a new way to coat nuclear materials that
are used to help create electricity in nuclear power stations. Nuclear reactors
are devices for creating a nuclear chain reaction to generate electricity. Inside
an operating nuclear reactor, the environment is extreme. Reactor
components are exposed to a combination of intense radiation (energy that
can be harmful) and heat as well as coolant. That's why, in order to operate
reactors safely, scientists need to design their components with materials that
can withstand these conditions. Inside nuclear reactors, the radioactive fuel,
which has been pressed into small pellets and stacked inside of fuel rods,
provides the energy that is turned into electricity. Coating these components
can help improve the operation and safety of nuclear reactors.
You can find coatings everywhere – from the non-stick coating on a frying pan, to the epoxy
coating inside a metal can of vegetables, to the coating on a tablet screen that keeps your oily fingerprints away. Scientists and
engineers design coatings, and the ways to apply them. They choose or invent
coatings that have chemical properties that are useful for solving the problem at
hand, for example, to protect an item from water, chemicals, heat, or even air.
Argonne scientists and engineers develop coatings for a variety of uses,
including materials for electronics or renewable energy sources. One important
use of coatings is to protect pellets of nuclear fuel from leaking in the extreme
environment inside a nuclear reactor. For this problem, scientists want to
develop a coating where energy can efficiently escape from the fuel pellet to
make electricity but keep the fuel itself inside.
In this activity, you will be the nuclear scientist at home. You will design a
coating that can help protect a pellet-shaped object (candy) from water, heat,
and microwave radiation in your kitchen!