22.S902 | January IAP 2015 | Undergraduate

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Geiger Counters

Instructor Insights

Course History and Future Iteration

In this section, Michael Short shares how 22.S902 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Geiger Counters developed from a successful weekend Geiger Counter workshop.

For two years now, we’ve been running a really successful Build Your Own Geiger Counter weekend experience for students. During this experience, 25 students use our kits to build, calibrate, test, and keep their own Geiger counters. The whole activity takes six hours. It’s a time of hands-on building and purposeful playing. Students seem genuinely happy during the workshop—there’s just something about experimenting with a device they build themselves that seems to help them retain what they learn.

It occurred to us that we could build on this experience by creating a course. We decided to pilot 22.S902 DIY Geiger Counters during the 2015 IAP session. It took only a few weeks to design the activities for 22.S902 DIY Geiger Counters because Mark Chilenski, a graduate student, had already designed the Geiger counter kit. This was something that he conceptualized with Nuclear Engineering professor, Anne White. I am the faculty member for the course, but Mark is the CTO and the heart and soul of the Geiger counter hands-on experience. Because Mark did such a good job designing the kit and developing a very clear manual, I was confident that the lab equipment would work nearly flawlessly and could focus on the science I wanted to teach.

We met four hours per day for five days in a row. It was very intense—probably too intense, but very successful. Students were able to learn many of the basic concepts underlying nuclear engineering. This learning stemmed from building their own Geiger counters, characterizing them, experimentally figuring out their efficiency, and determining their limitations. Much of the learning also came from using the Geiger counters to derive fundamental laws of dose, shielding, and energy.

The next time we teach 22.S902 DIY Geiger Counters, I’d like it to be a full-semester course. I think there’s value in giving students time for concepts to sink in. In shorter, more intense courses, students tend not to gain intuition at a speed that keeps pace with the course. After all, you can only gain intuition at the speed you can. You can’t drill intuition! So, I think it makes sense to spread the Geiger counter content out over several months.

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January IAP 2015
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