Can We Promote Radon Awareness Through Secondary School Science Classes?
Over the years, a lot of us have contributed to getting the word out on radon. Progress is being made, which is certainly gratifying. However, fresh approaches are periodically necessary to keep up the momentum. With this in mind, consider the national-level importance of promoting career interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics). Are there pathways to achieve these twin objectives through secondary school science classes?
Perhaps a two to three-period secondary school science class module can prepare young people to go home and effectively talk about the subject? Citizens for Radioactive Radon Reduction's (CR3) Youth Ambassadors Program provides an inspirational example of a pathway to promote greater radon awareness.
One high-level takeaway of such a science class module will be to illustrate that there are kinds of difficult societal problems that require bringing together knowledge from many different disciplines within the physical, biological, and social sciences. Real-world problem solving is often like this- broad interdisciplinary backgrounds need to be assembled to come to practical, cost-conscious, and satisfactory resolutions.
Among the building blocks a science class module might link together are: the discovery of radioactivity, the role of geology in the genesis of radon, the various types of radioactive decay, the measurement of radiation, the sources of environmental radiation, the temperature/pressure relationship arising from the ideal gas law and how it is manifested in our built environment, the health physics of radiation exposure, genetic damage leading to lung cancer, how homes are tested and mitigated, and the public policy implications to building codes, in dealing with legacy housing stock, and in financing mitigation. There is no shortage of potential content to sift, sort, and prioritize.
The capstone to the classroom teachings could be a homework assignment: access to a modern electronic detector to take home for a period of time of hands-on data collection. This aspect will need some work up, potentially involving government or private sector grants and manufacturers’ discounts, and/or novel approaches such as the new Demo Program from Ecosense, where a detector can be accessed for a 10-day trial at a modest cost. Such testing should always be emphasized as only preliminary. Ideally, any decision-making on mitigation should only be entered into following professional testing.
The outcomes sought are to spur multidisciplinary scientific curiosity, start some discussion of radon in at-risk communities, and get some homes at least preliminarily tested which might not otherwise get screened.
Your author is a retired Fortune 200 chemical and materials R&D director who did his graduate work in the laboratory at U.C. Berkeley where plutonium was discovered in the early 1940s (the room is designated a national landmark). This, explains my life-long interest in radiation and health physics! I am quite confident of being able to leverage my degree in chemistry and long experience to draft an engaging science class module based on radon. Woefully missing, however, are any personal connections to the world of secondary school STEM education and the critical “how to” of getting proposed content before teachers, administrators, and school districts.
The biggest difficulty with this idea is the decentralized nature of our public and private education systems. What has been a historic strength in ensuring local control and alignment with local parents’ sensibilities is a significant obstacle in getting curricula suggestions widely adopted. State-by-state, if not district-by-district, individually tailored efforts will be necessary. Thus, the efforts of many people will be required to bring the vision to reality. However, if efforts can be assembled in several of our most affected states, perhaps a meaningful impact can be made on the consequences of unknowingly living with high levels of radon.
As this effort proceeds, help will be needed with the module content: input on the relative value of segments and their ability to engage; composition of accompanying artwork, videos, and graphics; plus commentary on pacing, level, and tone. Most importantly, help will be needed from people having firsthand knowledge of how today’s secondary education system works and who has the time to volunteer to approach science teachers, administrators, and district boards as necessary.
If you are interested in engaging with this effort (envisioned to get fully underway in early 2023), reach out through the Response Form that provides an opportunity to contribute any comments and describe how your background, contacts, and energies can be of assistance. There are no guarantees, but it will be a worthy effort.
Random and not-so-random connections drive the world. Let’s make some!
Peter C. Foller, Ph.D.
Advisor to Ecosense, Inc.
Please, fill out the Response Form to get in touch with Peter Foller and provide your ideas on the science module effort. Thank you!
This article was published in the September Issue of CR3 News Magazine dedicated to the Radon and School theme.