Radiation, radioactivity and your local environment

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Radiation and radioactivity are a mystery at the centre of nuclear physics ever since the creation of this field of physics. It is one of the fields of science where breathtaking discoveries and leaps of creativity unlocked the hidden secrets of nature, but also one of the fields of science where its application can (and has) caused much good and much harm. The risk associated with applied nuclear physics is small, the consequences of the realisation of this risk can be immense. This has been shown again two years ago in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident, which despite its geographical distance and the time passed still has the potential to make headlines in the UK. And the consequences of the Chernobyl accident were still felt in the UK not too long ago. But linked with the pressing need to secure our future energy supplies, nuclear new built is actively discussed in the UK.

It is therefore important that the general population can make an educated judgement on the advantages, risks and disadvantages associated with radiation and put radiation levels into perspective. Universities and academics are seen as sources of independent expert information on controversial issues and are thus best placed to provide information and interpretation to the general population.

We want to raise the awareness on natural and man-made sources of radioactivity and radiation, focussing on the radiation environment where people spend their time. We will:

- engage with as wide an audience as possible, starting from schools as they are easily accessible through our existing links, and then extending to science festivals, science centres and the wider public;

- provide mobile fundamental nuclear physics experiments which demonstrate radioactive decay, isotope identification, attenuation of radiation and natural radioactive sources. These experiments will be possible with minimal instruction to the audience;

- provide a data collection tool through simple Geiger counters operated from smartphones, displaying a people's radiation map of Scotland on a free web site;

We will thus interact with a wide range of audiences, giving them ownership of the research methods and data collection, thus demonstrating not only nuclear physics, but in a broader sense the scientific method. The overarching aims and overall impact of the project can be summarised in three main topics;

- raise awareness for the scientific method by using a simple but relevant measurement impacting on people's local life;
- educate the interested public on the fundamentals of nuclear physics and radioactivity as well as the interaction of radiation with matter;
- provide an example of "citizen science" by collecting position sensitive gamma dose rates and integrate them into an online map.

Planned Impact

The proposed project relies on a wide ranging engagement of the public and can potentially be easily extended beyond the geographical boundaries outlined in this proposal. It will be necessary to achieve three distinct aims, raising awareness in schools and the public, extend the project by integrating our peers and publicise its success.

We wil raise the awareness for this project with its main target audience, e.g. schools, communities, organisers of science festivals. We will work through our established links with IOP Scotland, the Scottish Physics Teacher Network, STEMNET Scotland and its subsidaries, the Science Festival Organisers and possibly the Glasgow Science Centre and other Scottish Science centres in Aberdeen and Dundee), the University press office and BBC Scotland to raise the awareness on the project and the possibilities it offers. It will be worthwhile to also contact rambles and mountaineering organisations to get access to more remote places.

The project includes the development of a web page. Links to this web page will be put at prominent places in the gla.ac.uk domain and publicised through the channels outlined above. A Twitter feed can be established to raise awareness and keep the community aware of any changes. The launch of the project and the website will be publicised via the Glasgow University press office and (if agreed) by the STFC web office.

We will use the IOP Nuclear Physics group and the STFC Nuclear Physics community mailing lists to advertise the project to our peers. We are open to advertise the project e.g. via the STFC web pages as well. In addition, it will be advertised to all physics departments in Scotland through the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA).

The requested project duration is for 12 month. Naturally, the project itself will run for longer. But it is conceivable, that after the initial 12 month period, initial results will be published in popular science articles (e.g. Physics World, New Scientist, TES) as well as dedicated journals on physics education and depending on the quality of the data journals in environmental physics. This will be supported by the usual press channels outlined above.

Our planned dissemination channels will ensure we reach our target audience, include our peers and disseminate our efforts to fellow educators and communicators.


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Description Many members of the public feel unsure about the effect radiation from natural and artificial sources has on them and their environment. Through this outreach grant, a team of nuclear physicsts could engage with schools and the general public to excite and educate them about the dangers and benefits of natural occuring and artificial ionising radiation.
Exploitation Route Happy to transmit our expertise in engaging the public further.
Sectors Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare

Description As an outreach grant, the impact is in engaging with the general public and schools in Scotland. The resources and contacts developed are used continuously in science centres, science festivals and secondary schools.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description School visits Radiation and Health 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Series of talks to regional schools on how nuclear physics research provides benefits in healthcare applications

Interested about 150 secondary pupuis into science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013
Description Science Festivals and public talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact several presentaitions on Radiation and the Environment to school, in museums, at Science Festivals etc.

increased and increasing activity with schools, museums and science centres
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014