Radiation on Vassar’s Campus: Group One’s Project Plan


We are planning on taking on the responsibility of measuring the radiation in buildings around campus as a group. Considering there is one primary task to be accomplished, we feel that it would be best if all three of us were involved in the data collection process.

We are also hoping to conduct interviews of physics and astronomy professors who have been at Vassar for a significant amount of time. Depending on our personal schedules, we will try to complete these interviews as a group as well in order to maximize our understanding and to create the best possible environment for consensus.


  • SensorDrone with an attachment for detecting radiation if need be
  • Any other available radiation detectors

Science/Technology involved in experiment:

Depending on the available detectors, there are a few types of radiation detectors that we may be using. The first is known as a scintillation detector, which uses sodium-iodide (or another similar material), which glows when radiation hits it. This light is reflected and multiplied to increase the “signal”, which in turn hits a photocathode. As photons hit the photocathode, electrons are released towards a pair of plates that in turn multiply the electron signal even more until the signal is millions of times stronger than the initial radiation entering the device. To get a radiation reading, this electron signal is detected at the anode of the instrument and displayed in some way on the device.

The second possible type of detector available is known as a gas filled detector, which ultimately does function similarly to the scintillation detector using a signal amplification process. Radiation passes through a gas in the device and the molecules in that gas are ionized, leaving positive and negative ions in the chamber. These ions move toward separate charged sides (the anode and cathode), creating a current which is then measured.

Either of these types of devices would be appropriate for our experiment, but it is essential that we have a sensitive enough device that we can find very small levels of radiation (if there are any).

We hope to be able to use devices that will be able to measure all three types of radiation: \alpha, \beta, and \gamma, but depending on the sensors available, that may not be possible.

Activity plan:

  • Refer to Professor Magnes for names of Physics/Astronomy professors to interview regarding known instances of radiation contamination on Vassar’s campus(Mon. 2/10)
  • Conduct interviews during the course of the following week
  • Conduct radiation research (Sun. 2/16) (Note: This date may be contingent upon access to buildings, Sander’s Physics in particular.)
  • The maximum and average radiation levels at each site will be recorded during a “pass through” (i.e., a steady paced walk through the building)
  • The academic buildings to be tested are as follows: Olmstead, Sanders English, Sanders Physics (if available), Mudd Chemistry, The Old Laundry Building, Chicago Hall, The Old Observatory, Blodgett Hall, Kenyon, Swift Hall, Rocky, Vogelstein (if access is available), Skinner Hall, and the Library.

Expected outcomes/data:

We expect to find mostly normal levels of radiation in Vassar’s buildings. Vassar is a fairly significant institution, so it would be inconceivable that its buildings would have unhealthy levels of radiation. The only building that we expect to possibly find higher levels of radiation than normal would be Sander’s Physics as there has been a recent discovery of radiation contamination. There is the possibility that some of the other science buildings (i.e. Mudd and Olmstead) may have higher than “normal” radiation levels due to the use of NMR or other radioactive equipment.

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