Observing Radiation (Particle Detector)

Contact Information:

  • Katelyn McCarthy. Email: kpsutton@mtu.edu


In this exciting, hands on lesson plan students will discover the wonders of the tiny. Students will learn about the radiation that exists all around us, both from the sky and their classmates. Students will dive deep into the particle model of energy and create a miniature cloud chamber that allows them to witness the actual particles that exist around them at all times. Students will also be able to learn how to distinguish between particles that come from their environment verses particles that come from space.

Lesson Content Overview:

  • Engage (10 min): Students read a short article from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission on natural background radiation and discuss with their classmates. Students then brainstorm initial answers to the lesson questions.
  • Explore (45 min): Students build a diffusion cloud chamber to observe natural background radiation. Students use the cloud chambers to collect data on the direction and frequency of particles (radiation).
  • Explain (45 min): Students share their data with their classmates and create a class data set. Students make conclusions based on the combined data about natural background radiation.
  • Extend (20 min): Students work through a variety of activities, depending on the course and goal(s) of the teacher. Students may calculate their personal radiation dosage and explore health effects (biology), use the cloud chamber to study radioactive sources and half life (chemistry), or learn more about terrestrial (earth science) or cosmic (space science) radiation through a variety of sources.
  • Evaluate (5 min): Students revisit the lesson questions and construct their explanation using the evidence gathered during the lesson.

Supporting Material:

Observing Radiation – Lesson Plan

Resource – Student Guide

Resource – Building a Cloud Chamber

Resource – Class Data

Resource – Working Cloud Chamber (1)

Resource – Working Cloud Chamber (2)

About the Team:

Petra Huentemeyer, PhD (petra@mtu.edu), Professor, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Henrike Fleischhack, PhD (henrike.fleischhack@ptb.de), Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Germany


Xiaojie Wang, PhD (xwang32@mtu.edu), Post-Doctorate, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Katelyn McCarthy (kpsutton@mtu.edu), Teacher, Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, Kalamazoo, MI


Matt Laird (mslaird@mtu.edu), Instructor, Gogebic Community College, Houghton, MI


Heather Murphy (hmurphy@hancock.k12.mi.us), Teacher, Hancock High School, Hancock, MI


Tamala Sebring (tamala.sebring@gmail.com), Teacher, Pittsfield High School, Pittsfield, MA

Interested in Joining?

The call for applications to participate in this RET will be posted in the fall.


Check back here or contact Petra Huentemeyer for more information.