Back in the late 1960s, I was a proud member of Troop 210, Boy Scouts of America. On Wednesday evenings, my friend Stan and I would don our green uniforms and walk over to the old San Jacinto Baptist Church, then on 6th Street in Amarillo, Texas. There in the church’s basement was where our troop would meet. We spent a tremendous amount of time in earning, and arranging to earn, merit badges.
Merit badges have been an integral part of the Scouting program since the start of the movement in the United Kingdom in 1907. Scouting came to the United States in 1910. The BSA quickly issued an initial list of just 14 merit badges, but did not produce or award them. In 1911, the BSA manufactured the first official 57 merit badges and began awarding them. The number of badges available has been as high as 140 and, as of late 2010, is 126.
Merit badges exist to encourage Scouts to explore areas of interest and to teach valuable skills. The award of merit badges sometimes leads to careers and lifelong hobbies. Scouts earn merit badges by satisfying specified criteria. A Court of Honor is then held to present the badge.
With many parents in Amarillo working at the local Pantex Plant, one of the more popular merit badges was the Atomic Energy Badge. Approved by the BSA in 1963, it was the 104th in their series of merit badges. In 2005, the badge was renamed the nuclear science energy badge.
The badge has seven main criteria. Scouts are asked to describe the biological effects and hazards of radiation to humankind, the environment, and wildlife. The scout must be able to describe the radiation hazard symbol and explain where it should be used. He must be able to define appropriate scientific terms, name five individuals important to the field of atomic energy, and use models to explain the difference between atomic number and mass number.
The fifth criteria allows the scout to choose three projects from a list of ten, including possibly building an electroscope, a cloud chamber, or learning to detect radon. He also learns about current nuclear power plants, nuclear medicine, space exploration, and radiation therapy. The scout is also asked to investigate career opportunities in the nuclear science field.
For those desiring more information about the nuclear science energy badge, a detailed pamphlet, Stock Number 33275A, can be obtained from the Boy Scouts of America.