Gamma Rays and Oscilloscopes: the Nishina School Day 2

Today was the second day of the Nishina School! We started the morning off with a lecture by Dr. Kishida on communication. Over the course of the talk, we learned that Dr. Kishida is not only a highly accomplished and brilliant researcher, but is also involved in sharing RIKEN’s extensive scientific discoveries with the public as the Chief Editor of Nishina Center News. He has also written several books on the importance of scientific communication, which is exactly what he emphasized with us today. The take home message of the lecture, which I fully agree with, is that good communication – something that is often undervalued – is vital not only within academia, but for the sharing of results to the public and to the government. His talk made me realize how lucky I am that I go to Exeter: Jeffrey and I were essentially familiar with most of the information presented, including the tips on presentation and public speaking, which means that our high school education has perhaps prepared us better in this area than the other student’s college educations had.

After lunch, we finally got into some advanced physics! First, Dr. Doornenbal, a nuclear physicist at RIKEN, talked to us about the different ways that gamma rays interact with matter and how gamma rays can be detected based on those interactions. I was familiar with some of the concepts, but some I had never heard of before! (In case you were wondering, gamma rays interact with matter through photoelectric absorption, Compton scattering, and pair production – and the probability of those three happening depends on the energy of the gamma ray as well as the target.) We learned how to identify these phenomena as they are picked up by a detector and the differences between different types of detectors. We also (very, very briefly) covered how charged particles interact with matter as well.

Next was our first hands-on activity: learning how to use an oscilloscope. An oscilloscope, very simply, is a machine that measures and graphs incoming electric signals such as pulses. It is small, but it looks pretty intimidating due to all its knobs, buttons, and inputs. Luckily, though, with Dr. Kishida’s help, we learned all about its various capabilities and the best way to isolate a signal. For this activity we were split into three teams (Ion, Mass, and X-ray) that we will remain in for the rest of the Nishina School. Unfortunately, Jeffrey and I are not staying for the second week of the school – i.e. the x-rays – because we are not legally allowed near any amount of radiation, so one of us is on the Ion team and one is on the Mass team. I was very fortunate in that the Chinese student on my team had been using oscilloscopes since high school, and was able to help the rest of us out.

After the training finished, Dr. Kishida gave us a ¥10,000 bill and one final task for the day: go the grocery store together and buy ourselves food! Unfortunately, we are a pretty un-organized group, so we ended up getting back to RIKEN 20 minutes later than we should have, with a lot of dessert and not that much real food. Dr. Kishida didn’t seem to mind, though, and we had a great dinner getting to know each other. Dr. En’yo, Director of the Nishina Center, even came to join us for a while.

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