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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kathryn K S Miknaitis
PHYS 204
Seattle Campus

Radiation: Nature, Technology, and Society

Introduction to the science and implications of nuclear physics and radiation for non-science students. Emphasis on qualitative rather than quantitative understanding. Physics of the nucleus, types of radiation, technological uses, and human exposure. Critical evaluation of current issues, including food irradiation, depleted uranium, nuclear power, and nuclear weapons.

Class description

Students will learn about the different types of radiation and their sources in nature and technology. We will describe the structure of matter at the smallest scales, and explain the origin of radioactivity. Students will learn about the properties of different kinds of radiation, and the effects of radiation on matter and living tissue. Through the assignments and in-class exercises, this course will also encourage students to get a feel for scientific inquiry and the process by which scientists ask and answer questions.

A central purpose of this course is to use our knowledge of the underlying science of radiation and radioactivity to better understand current issues. Students can expect to become better acquainted with current controversies over food irradiation, depleted uranium, nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear waste disposal, and related issues. Students will gain practice critiquing popular news sources on these issues, and articulating their own opinions in writing and in discussion.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This course will involve a mixture of lectures, in-class exercises, and class discussions. Wherever possible, scientific concepts will be introduced through group exercises, thought experiments, or questions posed to the class. Lectures will be used to fill in the details and create a more complete picture of the physics. We will use in-class discussions and informal debates as a way to explore some of the more controversial subjects related to nuclear technology and different kinds of radiation.

Recommended preparation

This class has no prerequisites, and is designed for students without a background in college-level science. A willingness to ask questions, to challenge your reasoning skills, and to give the readings and assignments your thoughtful attention should be the basis for success in this class.

Class assignments and grading

Regular readings will include some materials from the central text, as well as articles and other materials on current issues. We will have weekly homework assignments that will involve a scientific reasoning and comprehension component as well as some short-answer questions on the readings.

Grades will be based on homework assignments, on short quizzes, on a final project, and on student participation in exercises and discussions.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Kathryn K S Miknaitis
Date: 12/31/2003