Increasing Student Conceptual and Visual Understanding of Nuclear Chemistry


During the 2015-2016 school year, Chris Barnett and Paula Jones from the STEM Education Program, did research to test the effectiveness of a lesson plan. This lesson covers nuclear chemistry, which is featured in the Next Generation Science Standards and is a newer addition to the TN high school chemistry standards. This research was presented at the American Chemical Society conference in San Diego, CA in March 2016.

We created an intervention lesson, which we took into several schools in southeast and middle Tennessee. The 5E lesson had a pre/post evaluation, a cloud chamber demonstration, and covered half-life, balancing nuclear equations and the types of radioactivity.

slide from nuclear chemistry presentation with examples of test questions
slide from nuclear chemistry presentation with results of research in graph form

Below is the video of the experiment they included in their lesson.
The cloud chamber in this video is what allows us to witness radioactivity in action, when it would normally be invisible to the human eye. Inside the chamber, we have created a suspension of alcohol using a temperature gradient. This is what creates the cloud. Then, when a radioactive source is placed in the chamber, the high speed particles leave a trace in the cloud as they speed off of the source. The source is an alpha emitter because the heavy helium nucleus leaves the best trail in the cloud. This demonstration has proven to be an effective part of our lesson plan on Nuclear Chemistry. -Paula Jones