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Expedition to the Nuclear Test Site

Leo Kirsch
Thursday, Jul 7th 2016

After only 2 weeks into the summer practicum, I had to leave Los Alamos to attend a conference in Las Vegas for the Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship Annual Review. We did not stay on the main strip, but there was plenty of gambling available in the casino. The first day I arrived I lost $3 on Keno at lunch, after that I did not gamble any more.

During this conference the fellows had the chance of visiting the Nevada Nuclear Test Site 70 miles north of Las Vegas. This one day tour was epic! The test site is a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island, but this place is quite the opposite of the Ocean State: the temperature in this desert was 110 degrees and the landscape is littered with craters. The biggest crater is called Sedan in which they tried to maximize the crater depth - the idea was to use nukes to excavate dirt for building canals! The tour guide wouldn't let me go down to the bottom of the 200ft crater no matter how much I pleaded. One of the modular instrumentation towers was still standing because the Icehouse test was never executed before the 1993 test ban treaty, so we got to see 60 tons of diagnostics freely suspended 500 feet. Of course I took the liberty to swing from the pendulum when no one was looking, I felt like the crazy bombardier from Dr. Strangelove! But needless to say I couldn't get it to swing very fast. We also walked around imploded bunkers, torn down bridges, x-ray burned houses, and severed planes. Seeing the magnitude of the destruction was pretty eye-opening; seeing is believeing. On our way out we drove past Area 51 but couldn't see much. 

The rest of the conference was not as grand, but I feel like I am getting to know the other 25 fellows closely. They are very smart and I took notes for my own Qualifying Exam during the many inspiring presentations. My poster was a hit, about 20 people stopped by to interact during the 45 minutes; I never suspected that so many people would be interested in Lithium cross section measurements!
Now I am back in Los Alamos running experiments and analyzing data while working on my thesis during lunch, nights, and weekends. The excitement never stops but it is overwhelming at times.