What is a Reedie, Anyway? (continued)

Photos by Matt D’Annunzio

Moriah Tobin


Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Adviser: Mary James

Thesis:Energy Spectrum Characterization of the Reed Research Reactor Neutron Beam

What it’s about: I used foil activation analysis to measure how many neutrons are going at what speeds in the center of the reactor core, and compared that to a spot 30 feet above the core where the neutron beam exits the pool. I compared these measurements to the spectra of neutrons emitted from U235 through fission, as well as the Maxwellian distribution of thermal neutrons.

What it’s really about: Playing with radiation for the good of SCIENCE ^.^

Who I was when I got to Reed: Crazy bohemian science potter.

Influential books:Introduction to Elementary Particles by David Griffiths. Ada or Ardor by Nabokov. I really liked reading Lucretius in Hum 110. He was an atomist.

Favorite spot: The canyon. It’s a great place to rebalance when Reed gets stressful.

Cool stuff I did: Shot Husum Falls in a whitewater raft. Was introduced to ballroom dancing and feminism. Pulled myself 200 feet up into the canopy of an old-growth tree thanks to the Gray Fund. Sexual Assault Task Force. Honor Council. Women’s Association of Reed Physicists. Learned to operate the nuclear rector. Did a summer internship at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Random thoughts: Neither parent graduated from college, so my family doesn’t have a lot of experience with that lifestyle. But I don’t like to be defined by the obstacles I’ve faced. I like to be defined by the things I do. I ask questions. I use the resources at hand. In the end, it’s a net gain. I would not have been able to be here without financial aid, and I am incredibly grateful to Reed’s commitment to fund every qualified applicant possible.

How Reed changed me: In my time at Reed I have been exposed to an incredible quantity of brilliant, interesting, and diverse opinions, viewpoints, and lifestyles. They have worked to broaden my horizons and made me a happier and better-balanced person. Critical thinking (cliché, I know) has really become the cornerstone of all aspects of my life—plus an open mind.

What’s next: University of Wisconsin to work on PhD in experimental neutrino physics.

Thesis close-up: 

The Inner Life Of Neutrons

On a rare sunny afternoon in April, Moriah was sitting on a bench outside the library, valiantly attempting to dent the ignorance of a magazine editor and explain her thesis, which has to do with energy levels of neutrons in the core of the Reed reactor. Noting a thick cloud of incomprehension settling on the interviewer’s brow, she jumped to her feet. “Maybe it would be simpler just to show you,” she declared. “Have you ever seen a nuclear reactor?”

Jauntily elbowing aside objections, she led the way to the daunting depths of the Reed reactor and pointed out the neutron beam, a metal tube, evacuated with nitrogen that channels neutrons from the glowing core. Racing to a whiteboard, she sketched graphs and equations to explain electron potentials and neutron speeds. Then she showed off little disks made of niobium, manganese, and cadmium that are used to measure neutron energy. Theory predicts that the neutrons at the top of the beam will demonstrate a certain energy spectrum; in reality, the spectrum depends on all sorts of confounding factors. By the end of the lesson, I was confident of one thing: if you like passionate explanations, ask a Reed physics major. —CL