In the excursion week before the autumn holidays, the Italian physics courses of S6 and S7 visited the research reactor in Garching. The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Research Neutron Source (FRM II), as the reactor is officially called, is operated by the Technical University of Munich. No electricity is generated in the reactor, but neutrons, which are needed for medical and physical research, among other things.
Experienced engineers and scientists from the Technical University of Munich led the visit. Of course, the strict safety measures for facilities where nuclear radiation is used also applied to the pupils. The reactor and the experiments are located in a kind of large safe. Inside, there is low air pressure so that no irradiated air can escape. The neutron source itself is in a basin with heavy water, which slows down radioactive particles so that they cannot escape. Radiation exposure is constantly measured with dosimeters, among other things, and before leaving the facility, everyone had to go through a detector test again.
During the visit, the pupils got very close to the practical use of nuclear technology, which they can otherwise only learn about in theory in physics lessons. They learned not only about safety measures, but also about the basic construction of the reactor and the experiments it is used for. The neutron beams are used to examine the structure of crystals, for example, or to illuminate archaeological finds and create three-dimensional images. In another department, medical treatments are carried out. The TU Munich staff showed the pupils various experimental set-ups and explained the functions of the different devices. At the end of the excursion, everyone agreed: they had gained exciting experiences and learned a lot about a world they otherwise only know from physics books.