Nuclear Got Talent: Medical Radioisotope Video Wins ‘Nuclear Olympiad’

Alice Cunha da Silva (centre) and Alexander Lazarev (back left) and Timon Kroell (back right) took first place for their efforts during IAEA-supported educational initiatives. The award ceremony was the first ever youth-focused event in IAEA General Conference history. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Amidst a week of high level events with ministers, ambassadors and other diplomats filling the corridors of the IAEA, young people took centre stage yesterday to emphasize the importance of investing in the next generation in the nuclear field. From a heart-warming story demonstrating the life-saving capabilities of medical radioisotopes, to fresh perspectives on nuclear technology for sustainable energy, students’ presentations inspired the audience at the IAEA’s 59th General Conference.

The event featured two award ceremonies for high school and university students who were honoured for their participation in IAEA-supported youth initiatives and education competitions aimed at cultivating their potential in science, technology, engineering and math.

“It is refreshing to see so many young people at the IAEA,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told participants at the ‘Nuclear Olympiad and Developing a Talent Pipeline’ event. This was the first ever General Conference event to focus on young people. “I am delighted that you all got involved in this IAEA event and took the trouble to produce some very good work on nuclear-related issues.”

Quoting young American nuclear physicist, Taylor Wilson, who also took part in the event, the Director General said: “‘Nuclear technology is cool!’ It also makes a difference to people’s lives.”

Encouraging his young audience to consider a future in nuclear science or engineering, and perhaps even at the IAEA, Mr Amano said: “Our mission is demanding, but very rewarding. We need clever people like you to fulfil it.”

IAEA hosted a joint award ceremony for the World Nuclear University (WNU) ‘Nuclear Olympiad’ and the IAEA and Vienna International School (VIS) ‘Youth Talent Pipeline’ initiative during the Agency’s 59th General Conference. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The first half of the morning event focused on the Nuclear Olympiad. This international competition challenged university students from around the world to use their imaginations to create 60-second videos illustrating nuclear techniques for global development. The competition was organized by the World Nuclear University with support from the IAEA, the World Nuclear Association, the Nuclear Energy Agency, and the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

“The Olympiad helps raise students’ awareness of nuclear areas, and to open them to future career opportunities,” said Patricia Wieland, Head of the World Nuclear University (WNU). “It is a unique opportunity for students to showcase their creativity, knowledge, and communication skills. We appreciate the fresh, young, new perspectives the students brought to nuclear technologies with their videos.”

The video that eventually won first prize, by a nuclear engineering student Alice Cunha da Silva from Rio de Janeiro University in Brazil, has already attracted 35,000 views on YouTube. Her video explored medical radioisotopes and how their use in nuclear medicine saves lives. Listen to our podcast to hear more from Alice about her experience.  

High School Science 

Following the Olympiad presentations, five groups of high school-aged students presented projects created during an IAEA-Vienna International School (VIS) pilot initiative held from April to August 2015. Their presentations explored the introduction of cancer treatment in Ethiopia, fast reactors and the hybrid loop-pool design, fusion confinement methods, the use of nuclear medicine in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and thorium as an alternative to uranium for sustainable energy.

Twenty-five students in grades 10 to 12 took part in the pilot initiative, which brought them together with experts from IAEA headquarters and the Agency’s laboratories, who mentored the students on scientific and technological applications. The students’ final projects reflected their interests in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as the skills they gained in project development and management over the course of the initiative.

Alexander Lazarev and Timon Kroell, both aged 17, who presented on fast reactors and the hybrid loop-pool design, were selected as the winning group of the IAEA-VIS initiative.

“You have a head start in an incredible field that has an incredible amount of potential to change our lives, to change the world, to make our lives better, to make us healthier, and make the environment better,” said Taylor Wilson. “It’s a tremendous field with tremendous possibilities and a lot of room for innovation,” added the 21-year-old nuclear physicist, known as the youngest person ever to work with nuclear fusion (at age 14). He was a speaker at the 2015 IAEA Scientific Forum on Tuesday and at the close of Thursday’s Olympiad event.

Last update: 24 June 2016