Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session


This course, which is the first subject in the Nuclear Science and Engineering undergraduate degree sequence, has no prerequisites. It is generally taken in the first semester of sophomore year, after two semesters of freshman calculus and physics.

Introduction to the Course

Welcome to 22.01! This year, we are trying a rather different, more hands-on approach to learn about ionizing radiation. To make the course more engaging, we'll use a "context first, theory second, then revisit the context" method of instruction.

Radiation is the central aspect which makes nuclear science and engineering (NSE) its own discipline, and sets the foundation for almost all of modern physics. We will begin by retracing the steps of famous radiation experiments and hypotheses. Next we will set the stage and context for our study of radiation, by showing details of the systems and reactors which use radiation. The rest of the course (about 80%) will be dedicated to describing the origins, interactions, uses, detection, and biological / chemical effects of ionizing radiation.

Required Textbook

Turner, James E. Atoms, Radiation, and Radiation Protection. 3rd ed. Wiley-VCH, 2007. ISBN: 9783527406067.


Homeworks (9) Simpler calculations, plus either a lab or a couple of difficult problems 4% each (36% total)
Quizzes 1 and 2 Test your ability to use course topics intuitively and mathematically 20% each (40% total)
Quiz 3 Culmulative questions covering the whole course 24%

Each homework assignment is given equal weight, 4% of your final grade. That means yes, showing a photo of your laser-cut lab jig counts as much as the radioactive scavenger hunt.

Analytical and Laboratory Homework Assignments: Building Skills, Testing Intuition, Confirming Theory

This year, we are including a number of types of problems in each 22.01 problem set. Approximately half of each problem set will consist of simpler questions, designed to build critical mathematical, scientific, and intuitive skills to solve problems in radiation science. The other half will be alternating analytical questions of considerable difficulty, and take-home laboratory exercises where you will have to make and explain measurements related to radioactivity.

Analytical Questions of Considerable Difficulty

These will consist of open-ended questions, where you have to make key assumptions, choose your problem-solving approach, and work out the intermediate steps yourself. The numerical answers will be given in the problem statement, to help you check the validity of your approach. Grades for these problems will be based on how you set up the problems, define assumptions, and your intermediate work.

Take-Home Laboratory Questions

The laboratory component of each assignment should be submitted as a short scientific journal article. We'll provide a sample high-quality journal article, highlighting the type of organization, language, sections, and references that it should contain. Each article should contain:

  • A <100 word abstract, which summarizes the main problem and results very briefly.
  • An introduction, which puts the problem into context: Why it is important (and not because it was assigned).
  • An experimental methods section, where you describe what you did.
  • A results section, where you show all your raw and intermediate data.
  • A discussion section, where you explain your results, and you mention / quantify any sources of error.
  • A conclusion section, where you quickly summarize your major contributions.

The whole laboratory report component should be no more than three pages, single-spaced in 12pt Times New Roman font or similar. Grades will be determined equally by the completeness of the documentation of the experiment, technical accuracy of the results & analysis, and the quality & readability of the report.

Working Together, Academic Integrity

Working together is OK! If you work in a team, you must:

  1. Acknowledge your team members prominently in the assignment, whether it is analytical or laboratory based.
  2. Write your own laboratory articles from scratch.
  3. Write / typeset your own problem sets (no xeroxing).
  4. State who did which parts of the assignment. If we sense that someone is doing almost all the work, we will meet with you to prevent this sort of thing.
  5. It's OK to take one set of experimental data together as a team, as long as you say who took the data.

In addition, all students must read the MIT guidelines on academic honesty and integrity.

Late Policy

10% of the value of a given assignment will be deducted for each calendar day late.


1 Radiation History to the Present—Understanding the Discovery of the Neutron  
2 Radiation Utilizing Technology  
3 Nuclear Mass and Stability, Nuclear Reactions and Notation, Introduction to Cross Section  
4 Binding Energy, the Semi-Empirical Liquid Drop Nuclear Model, and Mass Parabolas Problem Set 1 due
5 Mass Parabolas Continued, Stability, and Half-Life  
6 The Q-Equation—The Most General Nuclear Reaction  
7 Q-Equation Continued and Examples  
8 Radioactive Decay—Modes, Energetics, and Trends Problem Set 2 due
9 Radioactive Decay Continued  
10 Radioactive Decay Continued  
11 Radioactivity and Series Radioactive Decays Problem Set 3 due
12 Numerical Examples of Activity, Half-Life, and Series Decay  
13 Practical Radiation Counting Experiments—Solid Angle, Count Rates, Uncertainty, and Hands-On Gamma Counting and Nuclear Activation Analysis  
14 Photon Interactions with Matter I—Interaction Methods and Gamma Spectral Identification Problem Set 4 due
15 Photon Interaction with Matter II—More Details, Shielding Calculations Quiz 1: Energetics, Decay, and Half-Life
16 Nuclear Reactor Construction and Operation  
17 Ion-Nuclear Interactions I—Scattering and Stopping Power Derivation, Ion Range  
18 Ion-Nuclear Interactions II—Bremsstrahlung, X-Ray Spectra, Cross Sections  
19 Uses of Photon and Ion Nuclear Interactions—Characterization Techniques Problem Set 5 due
20 How Nuclear Energy Works  
21 Neutron Transport  
22 Simplifying Neutron Transport to Neutron Diffusion Problem Set 6 due
23 Solving the Neutron Diffusion Equation, and Criticality Relations  
24 Transients, Feedback, and Time-Dependent Neutronics  
25 Review of All Nuclear Interactions and Problem Set 7 Help Problem Set 7 due
26 Chernobyl—How It Happened  
27 Nuclear Materials—Radiation Damage and Effects in Matter  
28 Chernobyl Trip Report by Jake Hecla (a Former Student)  
29 Nuclear Materials Science Continued Quiz 2: Radiation Interactions, Shielding, and Energy Loss
30 Radiation Dose, Dosimetry, and Background Radiation  
31 Frontiers in Nuclear Medicine, Where One Finds Ionizing Radiation (Background and Other Sources) Problem Set 8 due
32 Chemical and Biological Effects of Radiation, Smelling Nuclear Bullshit  
33 Long-Term Biological Effects of Radiation, Statistics, Radiation Risk  
34 Radiation Hormesis Problem Set 9 due
35 Food Irradiation and Its Safety  
    Quiz 3: Cumulative