This Course at MIT

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 22.S902 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Geiger Counters as it was taught by Prof. Michael Short in IAP 2015.

This experimental one-week course, offered during the January IAP term , is a freshman-accessible hands-on introduction to Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. Students build and test their own Geiger Counter, and in so doing, they explore different types and sources of radiation, how to detect them, how to shield them, and how to accurately count/measure their activity. This course is meant to be enjoyable and rigorous at the same time.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

Learning objectives:

  • Understand types of radiation: alpha, beta, gamma, neutrons and others
  • Describe characteristics of natural and man-made radiation sources
  • Predict the type and energy of radiation for different reactions
  • Explain principles of radiation shielding
  • Interpret detector theory and limitations
  • Gain exposure to statistics, uncertainty, and error analysis as applied to Geiger counters
  • Understand implementation issues: circuit theory, sources of error and dead time

Laboratory objectives:

  • Learn how to solder and assemble circuits
  • Develop testing and debugging skills
  • Understand sources of experimental error
  • Plan experimental procedures for faster success

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

This course prepares students to start undergraduate work in nuclear science and engineering. It exposes them to buzzwords and key concepts. The course also enables them to test a few of these concepts. This is important, because the fundamentals of nuclear science are typically not taught in high schools. 

The course also provides students with the fundamentals needed for the study of radiation physics. Students interested in pursuing radiology or interstellar radiation will find it useful. 

 

Curriculum Information

Prerequisites

None

Requirements Satisfied

None

Offered

This was a first-time experimental offering during IAP.

The Classroom

  • Ten grey rectangular tables arranged in two rows facing sliding blackboards. LCD projector mounted to ceiling in center of room.

    Lecture

    Lectures were held in a classroom with sliding blackboards, moveable tables and chairs, and a LCD projector.

  • Computer monitors on grey tables. Lab equipment also on some of the tables. Moveable chairs. White boards on the walls. Red and black cables hanging on the right wall of classroom.

    Lab

    Students built their Geiger counters in this lab. Computers, soldering equipment, and other materials were available.

 

Assessment

The students' grades were based on the following activities:

The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by problem sets. 25% Problem sets
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by a lab report. 25% Lab report
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by successfully building a working Geiger counter. 50% Successfully building a working Geiger counter
 

Instructor Insights on Assessment

In assessing student learning, we attended to whether or not students accounted for experimental error in their work. We wanted to know if they were thinking about statistics, or just writing down the numbers generated by the counters. We checked to see if they were thinking critically about the data. For example, if students got a background count of 0, we didn’t want them to assume that that number meant there was no radiation in the room. We wanted them to consider the fact that something may have gone wrong with their experiment, such as a loose wire. These were the kinds of things that we paid attention to in our grading.

Student Information

12 students took this course when it was offered in January 2015.

Breakdown by Year

1/2 freshmen, 1/2 graduate students. Several visiting graduate students from SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) also participated.

Ideal Class Size

The bigger the better, up to about 25-30 students (assuming 2 or 3 talented TAs).

 

How Student Time Was Spent

This was a one-week course, in which students were expected to spend approximately 40 hours, divided as follows:

In Class

20 hours
  • Met 4 hours a day for one week; 5 total sessions.
  • Interactive lectures.
  • Hands-on lab experiences; students built their Geiger counters from kits and used the counters to run experiments.
 

Out of Class

20 hours
 

Semester Breakdown

WEEK M T W Th F
1 Lecture session scheduled; lab session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; lab session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; lab session scheduled; assignment due date. Lab session scheduled; assignment due date. Lab session scheduled; assignment due date.
Displays the color and pattern used on the preceding table to indicate dates when classes are not held at MIT. No classes throughout MIT
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lecture sessions are held. Lecture session
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when assignments are due. Assignment due date
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when no class session is scheduled. No class session scheduled
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lab sessions are held. Lab session
 

Instructor Insights

This is the class in which I want to see things exploding. This is where I want to see you do the high-voltage dance. This is where I want everything to go wrong, because you can’t get it to go right unless you see what goes wrong.

—Michael Short

In the following pages, Prof. Michael Short describes various aspects of how he taught 22.S902 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Geiger Counters.

 

Course Team Roles

Main Instructor (Prof. Michael Short)

  • Developed and delivered lecture content.
  • Assessed students’ work.
  • Assisted students during lab.

Teaching Assistants (Mark Chilenski and Matthew D’Asaro)