Radioactivity Experiments

Written for PULSE by Christopher Martin
Edited by Rachel Hughes and Stephanie Nardei

Time: 3 class periods
60 min – setting up labs and copying worksheets.

These were written by my colleagues at the “Understanding nuclear science and technology workshop” at UNM (2002).
The atom
Stability graph
Estimate your personal dose
Background Radiation
Natural Energy
Shielding lab
Natural radiation series
Uranium 238 Decay series
Geiger counters and radioactive materials

Through inquiry, the students will learn the difference between types of ionizing radiation and how elements are transmuted. Transmutation is the conversation of one element to another by radioactive decay.  They will also learn that radiation is normal and surrounds us.

Students will be able to:

  1. Follow directions
  2. calculate the number of protons and neutrons in difference elements
  3. understand that when the neutron/ protons ratio is uneven, alpha or beta decay occurs
  4. estimate their annual dose of radiation due to their surrounding and life style
  5. calculate the amounts of alpha, beta and gamma radiation emitted from a radioactive sample
  6. understand how the radioactive isotope can be transmuted into different decay products

National Science Education Standard
CONTENT STANDARD D: The Physical Setting
The structure of Matter

The nucleus of radioactive isotopes is unstable and spontaneously decays, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. It cannot be predicted exactly when, if ever, an unstable nucleus will decay, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability of decay rate allows radioactivity to be used for estimating the age of materials that contain radioactive substances.

Strand 5: Physical Science
Concept 1: Structure and Properties of Matter
Understand physical, chemical, and atomic properties of matter.
PO 6. 
Describe the Following
features and components of the atom:

  • protons
  • neutrons
  • electrons
  • mass
  • number and type of particles
  • structure
  • organization

Teacher Background
For extra practice with radioactive decay reactions, go to:

Related and Resource Websites
Global Radiation Patterns http://users.owt.com/smsrpm/Chernobyl/glbrad.html
PULSE Resource Page on Nuclear Radiation: http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/chemicals/nuclear.htm



  1. Eight labs are listed here.  These were written by participants at the “Understanding nuclear science and technology workshop” at UNM (2002).

Show how lead can be transmuted into gold.

Embedded Assessment
Students will demonstrate their knowledge of radioactivity and atomic theory by completing the labs and worksheets.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: March 7, 2007
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo