Nuclear/Atomic Science

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Writing Tips & Resources

 

This month’s theme is nuclear/atomic energy. In searching for ways to bring the arts into STE(A)M, I found books for older readers that focus on the “politics” of energy and offer opportunities for activities. Certainly that is relevant in today’s world where what we know as good science is being questioned. It’s not new. Galileo went to prison because he said the earth rotates around the sun. Scientists make discoveries and then those discoveries go out into the world in various ways. Politics, religion, culture, and economics can influence their uses and interpretations.

Each book here focuses on past consequences of scientific discoveries. My books this month are for older readers and the STEAM activities are ones which would require the students to have research, writing, and visual communication skills.

 

 

 

Radium girls coverThe first is The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story Of The Poison That Made People Glow In The Dark (Young Readers’ Edition 2020, Sourcebooks Explore) by Kate Moore. This book is not for the faint of heart, with archival photos and heart-rending accounts. It is rich with content, bibliography, and story. While the discovery of radium was useful to mankind, abuse of the substance led to tragedy.archival photos

In 1917, there was competition for the jobs at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Newark, New Jersey, where the girls who worked in the watch studio made good money. They painted the numbers on watch faces with paint that glowed in the dark. Radium, discovered by Marie Curie, was a miracle of new technology. It was especially important because the watch dials could be seen by soldiers fighting in World War I.

In order to get a good point on the paint brush, so as to paint the tiny numbers, the girls used their lips to make a fine point on the brush. Some of the girls were concerned. Their clothes glowed in the dark. They got sores in their mouths and acne.

The personal stories in the book are engaging and thought provoking. Also sad and direct. Some of the photos are shocking. At over 700 pages, the book is a comprehensive collection of materials, including bibliography, archival photos, and reading group guide.

 

 

 

Radium Girls play cover

I first heard of the Radium Girls when I attended the play in 2018 at Lasell University. The young actors performed the sad and informative story with deep feeling. (https://the1851chronicle.org/2018/04/26/radium-girls-turns-the-dial-towards-feminism/).

In order to bring the A into STEAM, writing or performing a play is a great way to create a multidisciplinary educational experience for any topic. Having to explain a concept to others always helps students to a better understanding of a topic themselves. A full length script for Radium Girls is available through Dramatic Publishing.( by D.W. Gregory https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/radium-girls)

If you think of writing a play and that intimidates you (it would me!), I found a number of resources on the Teachers Pay Teachers website (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com). You can search for “writing a play” and you have many options. I haven’t used any of these but the materials I have ordered from them in the past have been useful in my teaching.

 

 

Fallout coverAnd looking to continue the theme of including art, it amused me to think of atomic rhyming with comic. So I selected Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Slizard, and the Policial Science of the Atomic Bomb ( Jim Ottaviani (Author), Janine Johnston (Illustrator), Steve Lieber (Illustrator), Vince Locke (Illustrator), Bernie Mireault (Illustrator), Jeff Parker (Illustrator), Jeffrey Jones (Illustrator) by GT Labs. This is for older readers and I think some previous knowledge of the development of the atomic bomb will help the reader to follow the story.

The comic platform, with its countless illustrations, brings the characters to life. We can feel the emotional conflicts of the scientists, especially facing the demands of the war interests. To me, the black and white drawings were reminiscent of film noir and helped to place the time frame pre-1960. It is especially valuable for reluctant readers who can get visual cues from the pictures.

To be clear, the book is more about political science (a branch of social science) and it does include information about the development of the bomb. It’s always good to bring in the humanity aspects of science to keep it in perspective.

 

 

 

There are studies about the effectiveness of comics in education. Comparing Effectiveness and Engagement of Data Comics and Infographics, downloadable from https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3290605.3300483. They say Our results suggest participants largely prefer data comics in terms of enjoyment, focus, and overall engagement and that comics improve understanding and recall of information in the stories. (by Zezhong Wang, Shunming Wang, Matteo Farinella, Dave Murray-Rust, Nathalie Henry Riche, Benjamin Bach).

free downloadThe Center for Cartoon Studies (https://www.cartoonstudies.org/) offers a free downloadable book called The World is Made of Cheese, The Applied Cartooning Manifesto, as well as other materials on comics. The materials are user friendly and you don’t have to be an “artist” to make a comic. Most published comics are collaborations anyway, so find a partner. And the goal is to create a page or book that tells a story (fiction or nonfiction) communicates ideas, and provides the satisfaction of being creative. In my experience, students enjoy making (and reading) comics and there are more choices available every day.

 

 

 

 


Kaleidoscope front cover

Margo Lemieux draws, paints, reads, and writes all the time. And, following her own advice, she is doing a cartoon assignment in the spring for her university class. She also does editing and publishing. Her most recent project is an anthology for her long-time witers’ group, The Magic Storymakers, titled Kaleidoscope.

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– In the Classroom

 

 

Nuclear science is the study of the atomic world. Atoms are the building blocks of all matter, and everything around us, including our bodies, is made of atoms.

Students can explore the ways nuclear science impacts our world in these books:

Who Split The Atom? by Anna Claybourne  Using a DK-like format, it explores the early history and research into the structure of atoms, the periodic table, radioactivity, and atomic science. Loaded with photographs, graphics, “That’s A Fact!,” “Breakthrough,” and scientific sidebars, as well as vignettes of scientists, it is an accessible and engaging introduction to radioactivity.

 

Atomic Universe: The Quest To Discover Radioactivity by Kate Boehm Jerome  This National Geographic book uses a running timeline across the top of the pages (from 1800 to 1971), photographs, mini-biographies, and “science booster” sidebars to interest high-low readers in an introductory overview of radioactivity, atomic science, and nuclear reactors.

 

Activity

How is nuclear energy produced? In nuclear fission, the nucleus of a uranium atom splits into tiny atoms. The splitting produces two or three free neutrons and releases a large amount of energy. In a nuclear reactor, fission is used to make atomic energy. Divide students into groups and have each group research the process of nuclear fission. Each group should create a visual demonstration of nuclear fission and present it to the class. Get creative! 

 

Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high that ripped apart homes and schools, damaging Fukushima’s nuclear power plant and causing a nuclear meltdown. Chapters describe the events as well as the science of nuclear reactors. Each section begins with a readout of reactor status, from “offline” to “meltdown” with the last chapter exploring lessons learned.

 

Activity

Nuclear energy is a much-debated topic. In this activity, students will decide whether or not to support building a nuclear power plant in their town to provide electricity and replace fossil fuel-generated electricity. Divide the class into two groups – one group will support the building of the nuclear power plant, while the other group will oppose it. Have each group research nuclear energy and power and find facts and arguments to support their point of view. Hold a classroom debate and have each side present their strongest arguments for and against the nuclear power plant.

 

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling  This gripping dual biography provides an in-depth look at the discoveries, life-long personal sacrifices, and professional struggles that Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie made in discovering artificial radiation and Lise Meitner made in discovering nuclear fission. It also touches on Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of natural radiation, society’s grappling with radiation, World War II, and the atomic bomb. Includes a timeline, Who’s Who section, black and white photos, and fascinating sidebars further explaining the science.

Activity

Radiation exists all around us. It is produced as unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay, and travels as energy waves or energized particles. There are many different forms of radiation, each with its own properties and effects. What sources of radiation are you exposed to in your daily life? Have students research radiation sources and create a list of exposures. They can use this calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate their annual radiation dose.  What can students do to reduce or limit radiation exposure in their lives?

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and a dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her online at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, Instagram @moonwriter25, and Twitter @carlawrites.

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Book List

From X-rays to bombs, coverups to meltdowns, the history of radioactive elements has never been boring.

Who Split The Atom? by Anna Claybourne

Using a DK-like format, it explores the early history and research into the structure of atoms, the periodic table, radioactivity, and atomic science. Loaded with photographs, graphics, “That’s A Fact!,” “Breakthrough,” and scientific sidebars, as well as vignettes of scientists, it is an accessible and engaging introduction to radioactivity.

Atomic Universe: The Quest To Discover Radioactivity by Kate Boehm Jerome

This National Geographic book uses a running timeline across the top of the pages (from 1800 to 1971), photographs, mini biographies, and “science booster” sidebars to interest high-low readers in an introductory overview to radioactivity, atomic science, and nuclear reactors.

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner by Marissa Moss

Lise Meitner made groundbreaking discoveries in the study of radiation. She was the first to split the atom. But as a woman she faced many barriers, with men often taking credit for her scientific research. When Hitler came to power she had to face anti-Semitic threats as well. In addition to the science of radioactive elements, this book shows how easily women’s contributions can be erased from the history of science.

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling

This gripping dual biography provides an in depth look at both the discoveries, life-long personal sacrifices, and professional struggles which Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie made in discovering artificial radiation and Lise Meitner made in discovering nuclear fission. It also touches on Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of natural radiation, society’s grappling with radiation, World War II, and the atomic bomb. Includes a time line, Who’s Who section, black and white photos, and fascinating sidebars further explaining the science.

Marie Curie for Kids: Her Life and Scientific Discoveries, with 21 Activities and Experiments by Amy M. O’Quinn

This book begins with Marie Curie’s childhood in Poland and takes readers through her scientific work and discoveries. Her work in radioactive elements was pivotal in creating the field of atomic physics and she added new elements to the periodic table. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in not one, but two fields: chemistry and physics. Hands-on activities include building atomic models, a periodic table scavenger hunt, and splitting water into atoms.

The Science and Technology of Marie Curie, by Julie Knutson

Another book for Curie fans, that explores her groundbreaking research in physics and chemistry. Just as these discoveries forced scientists to rethink the structure of the world, Curie’s work forced them to rethink the role of women in science. Information boxes and sidebars are scattered throughout chapters, as are some biographies of other women in science, and there are a handful of activities to explore.

The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story Of The Poison That Made People Glow In The Dark by Kate Moore

Equal parts medical mystery, corporate cover-up, and justice for women workers. This riveting true story about young women who used “glow-in-the-dark radium paint” on watch dials details the incredible lengths that the corporations took to evade responsibility for the women’s radium poisoning and deaths and the horrendous suffering of the girls. As well as the amazing efforts of a few doctors and lawyers determined to help these women fight back for their families and to save others and forever change workplace laws.

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Take one part spy thriller, one part scientific research, and a dash of political intrigue and you get an explosive mix! In this book Sheinkin traces the race from splitting the uranium atom to harnessing the power of the first atomic bomb. Section headings include titles such as “how to build a bomb” with an epilogue that discusses the fallout of the atomic arms race. The heart of the book is based on first-hand accounts by participants in the events.

In Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown, Steve Sheinkin takes readers on a fast-paced and terrifying journey into the Cold War and nuclear arms race. Like Bomb, Fallout is a page-turning nonfiction – perfect for kids who love science and history.

Chien-Shiung Wu: Pioneering Nuclear Physicist by Richard Hammond

This upper-middle grade book looks at the contributions this brilliant Chinese-American nuclear physicist made to the Manhattan Project – production of radioactive uranium for the atomic bomb and improvements of radioactive detectors. As well as Wu’s later experiments which changed scientists’ understanding of physics and resulted in her election as the first female president of the American Physical Society. Includes photographs, timelines, diagrams, and extensive further resources.

The Disappearing Spoon, And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean

While this book isn’t exclusively about radioactive elements, there are plenty of stories about them – and their discoveries – to make it worth checking out. In a conversational tone, Kean talks about the periodic table, element families, and how elements are discovered. Sprinkled throughout are stories about the discovery of fission, the Manhattan Project, the “radioactive boy scout,” as well as Marie Curie and Lise Meitner.

Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland

On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high that ripped apart homes, schools, and damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing a nuclear meltdown. Chapters describe the events as well as the science of nuclear reactors. Each section begins with a readout of reactor status, from “offline” to “meltdown” with the last chapter exploring lessons learned.


This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich, author

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Her most recent book is Funky Fungi (with Alisha Gabriel). Visit her at  www.sueheavenrich.com

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com