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How a garage nuclear reactor is powering students’ futures

SPONSORED — Carl Greninger isn’t afraid of a little nuclear fusion. And thanks to the reactor he’s built in his garage — yes, he has a nuclear reactor in his garage — dozens of the Pacific Northwest’s brightest high school students are finding their place in the exciting world of science and engineering.

Greninger, who was recently named a Hometown Hero by WSECU and KIRO Radio, is no stranger to the failings of today’s public education.

“As a country, we fall into 31st over 55 developed nations in the fields of science and technology,” Greninger said. “We do not have a commanding lead in science and technology. The problem, in my personal opinion, is that we’re not developing industry-relevant skills and delivering young people to the workplace with the skills managers and project teams need.”

In and around Federal Way that’s starting to change — largely because of Greninger’s brainchild, the Northwest Nuclear Consortium. Through this program, which offers high school students the opportunity to work on a real nuclear reactor, students don’t just learn the physics and biology behind energy and medicine. Greninger also ensures they’re learning in an environment that mirrors the professional world.

“You have a lot of information and academics, but if you’ve never worked with a team on projects and you come out of a strictly academic environment, you’re in trouble,” he said.

That’s not the case in the consortium.

“There are deadlines and time frames and budgets — they’re getting the context in a whole different framework than if they were seeing it in a classroom in a public high school,” he said.

That environment is also just pretty cool. The Federal Way location (Greninger’s garage) houses a Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor “designed and built by (consortium) students over the past six years,” according to the North West Nuclear Consortium website. The operation also provides labs for chemistry and biochemistry projects, along with radiation detection equipment for environmental and operational monitoring.

In short, the consortium is like no high school science class you’ve ever experienced — and that’s why it has also produced extraordinary results.

Participants in Greninger’s program have been recognized on the state and international levels at various science and engineering fairs. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, Greninger’s students placed second, fourth and third respectively in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Greninger has seen countless success stories, as students achieve dreams conceived in his own garage.

“The most rewarding part is to see that moment in time when they realize that they have skills that are worth something and therefore they are worth something, and they have the capability to bring those skills to the table,” said Greninger. “They can step into a life with respect and purpose and appropriate rewards.”

According to Greninger, the experience creates a perceptible change in the students’ entire demeanor. “It’s amazing the transformation,” he said. “These kids put on a white lab coat and the persona changes — they’re a scientist.”

For more information on the program, visit North West Nuclear Consortium.

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