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Atoms that emit radiation are called radioisotopes. There are radioisotopes of most of the chemical elements on earth. Some occur naturally; many more can be made, for example, in a reactor. Radioisotopes and radiation have many uses in our daily lives.
Conduct the following simple activities to illustrate some industrial applications of nuclear technology. Students can be assigned to active roles – holding the flashlight, holding the paper, etc.
Activity 1. No more empties.
This fill gauge demonstration shows how radioactive isotopes can be used to measure the fill level of containers such as soft drink cans.
Place the empty jar or bottle on a table. Shine the light through it with the flashlight. Hold a sheet of paper near the opposite side of the bottle. Fill the bottle with the liquid and observe the light coming through onto the paper.
Can you tell the height of the liquid in the bottle?
The light shines through the bottle onto the paper only above the level of the liquid. Radioactive emissions penetrating an almost-filled container of liquid could be used to operate an automatic shut-off valve, setting it so that the shut-off valve would be activated when the radioactive emissions no longer penetrate the tank or container- the container is filled.
Activity 2. How thick is it?
In this demonstration, the flashlight represents a radioactive isotope giving off radiation that would be used to gauge thickness of metal, plastic or paper being produced in a plant. When the capability of penetration of the radioactive emission is known, the amount of radioactive emissions (the light in the demonstration) that penetrates the material indicates the thickness of the material.
Lay the flashlight on a table (or ask a student to hold it). Darken the room; turn on flashlight. Hold a sheet of paper in front of the light about a foot away from the beam.
How much light goes through?
Add a second sheet of paper and observe the change in amount of light. Keep adding sheets until no light goes through. (Note that this activity also demonstrates shielding.
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Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information of the American Nuclear Society
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