Activities for Atomic Theory and Atomic Issues

March 17, 2012 at 11:29 AM 4 comments

The Fukushima disaster is just over one year ago, and the effects continue to roll out across Japan. 20% of US power is nuclear. We have some well within fall out range. It’s an issue that I grew up with during the Cold War, the coal strikes and the disaster movies of the 1970s. Nuclear = terrifying. And yet, climate change, terrifying in a whole different way. The zeitgeist has shifted and the nuclear debate is unclear. (That’s ‘nuclear’ for dyslexics :-))

Nuclear Power – the way of the future?! How are 8th graders feeling about this, after learning about climate change and how nuclear power and nuclear bombs work? A walking debate of my 8th grade classes showed, surprisingly, that there are very few who say ‘NO!’ The majority are more nuanced, with a bias towards the ‘yes’ side, with safety precautions. Here’s a sheet to support the walking debate: Nuclear Power IssueTheir arguments for were around peak oil and emissions, and the graph of deaths per billion kilowatt hours for different power sources. Coal was the worst btw. Here’s the Atoms Isotopes and Radiation PowerPoint used which includes and cites the graphs and maps.

Greta came up with two great labs to teach the concept of isotopes and radioactive decay using beans, pennies and dice. Games on the first really rainy days of the year, my favorite.

1. Never Underestimate the Element of Surprise: Isotopes with cups, beans and calculators









2. Radioactive Decay with Pennies, Dice and Graphs


Entry filed under: Atoms and Elements, Chemistry topics, Critical Thinking, Data Analysis, Energy Opportunities Project, Inquiry and critical thinking, Physics Topics. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark Foreman  |  March 18, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    I am glad to see that you are having a go at teaching your students about radioactivity, and the maths of radioactive decay.

    Unlike most horrible things, radioactivity will decay away.

    Just always bear in mind

    Lambda = ln(2) / half life

    A = Ao exp(-lambda t)


  • 2. Sue Boudreau  |  March 18, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I’m sure you have read Dr. Wade Allison’s work Radiation and Reason as it sounds similar to your position that radiation is not as dangerous as public perception, according to data from Chernobyl and the follow up from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think the main danger of nuclear power may be from the terrorist threat it poses from theft of Plutonium. Well, that’s what my dad, George Kalmus, a particle physicist thinks.


  • 3. Mark Foreman  |  March 19, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    No I have not read that book by Wade Allison,

    While the theft of plutonium and home made atom bombs does capture the attention of the general public, I think that the threat of a “dirty bomb” is a greater problem. A typical plutonium contains Pu-240 which generates lots of neutrons per second, as a result it is very hard to make an atom bomb from plutonium.

    On the other hand I think it is much more easy to build a dirty bomb which will make an almighty mess.


  • 4. wade allison  |  March 20, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Hello Mark
    Actually a dirty bomb is a bad idea, especially if you are a bright determined terrorist. Almost anything would work better. A chemical bomb or a fire would spread. A dirty bomb would not spread anything far – the chemical explosion would do the most damage. The radioactivity would not go far or multiply like a biological agent.



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