Thursday, March 15, 2007

Nuclear Physics

One of the reasons that physics is cool, is because occasionally you get to play with radioactive stuff. In the intro to physics lab course that I teach there is a radioactivity lab where the students get to see alpha particles blocked by paper, betas by lead, gammas by nothing, and so on. It's a cute little lab. One of the activities involves finding the half-life of something decaying.
There's a problem with this, however. In order to actually see the half-life of something in one lab session, you've gotta have something that decays quickly. On the other hand, if something decays so quickly, how are you gonna get it shipped to you?
So, enter . . . Plutonium.
YU has this cool toy. It's called a Neutron Howitzer, and they store it in a lead-lined room.
Inside the ominous metal cylinder is PuBe (an unfortunate abbreviation), Plutonium-Beryllium, which emits neutrons, and will make stuff put into it radioactive!
This is the little thingy that allows you to put samples inside without dying. So, a bit of Indium left inside for a while becomes radioactive, with a half-life of around an hour. And the little pre-med students can do their lab.


  1. And you can do your cute little lab also.

  2. How many labs will it take till you start glowing in the dark?

  3. i can't wait to take that lab

  4. Dear Brothers and Sisters,
    Can anyone tell me which isotope of plutonium is in the Nuclear-Chicago neutron howitzer? Is it 238, or is it 239?


  5. Yendis,
    I have no idea. Why do you want to know?