Kemi Jona and Evanston Teacher Mark Vondracek Describe Online Radioactivity Experiment

Kemi Jona and Evanston Teacher Mark Vondracek Describe Online Radioactivity Experiment


For many science classes, there is no way to experimentally study radiation because many high schools lack science resources and basic laboratory equipment. SESP research professor Kemi Jona and Evanston Township High School physics teacher Mark Vondracek offer a solution with a remote radioactivity experiment that all high school students can access.

Their new article, “A Remote Radioactivity Experiment,” in the January 2013 issue of The Physics Teacher explains an experiment is available to all high school classes. Through the remote experiment, science students take advantage of university science resources, including a Geiger counter and radioactive sample. The students test how distance affects the intensity of radiation coming from a radioactive source. 

Jona is the director of the Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), which puts remote labs and curriculum online for high school science courses through the iLab Network. One lab offered free to educators through iLab features a remote radioactivity lab housed and run at the University of Queensland in Australia.

“What is remarkable, however, is that using the Internet, in a matter of about 10 minutes, a high school teacher or student can set experimental parameters for a number of different distances between a strontium-90 source and Geiger counter, the number of trials at each distance, and the time for collecting counts for each trial, submit the experiment, and then receive real data from thousands of miles away,” explain Jona and Vondracek in their article. A webcam allows the student to watch the experiment in real time.

In a comparative study, Jona and his colleagues found positive learning results with iLabs. Comparing the use of iLab and a computer simulation with 123 university students, the researchers found that students using iLab scored better. They also reported more positive attitudes about ownership and realism of the experiment.

“We see many advantages in adding remote online labs to the toolbox of learning tools available to science teachers,” say the authors. Remote experiments give students access to data in a new way. They also allow students to work the way many professional scientists do today. In the long term, Jona and Vondracek contend the exposure to advanced lab equipment through remote experimentation is not only an exciting avenue for educators to pursue but also a way to improve educational equity. 

OSEP, which is based at the School of Education and Social Policy, connects K-12 schools with the cutting-edge resources of Northwestern University. OSEP programs include professional development workshops for teachers, mentoring programs for teachers and students, inquiry-based STEM learning programs for students and partnership initiatives between Northwestern University and K-12 schools and other organizations. Last year OSEP served approximately 22,500 students and 280 teachers at 84 schools.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/7/17