Cutting Edge > Develop Program-Wide Abilities > Undergraduate Research > 2014 Workshop > Activities > Predicting Radon levels in homes based on geology

Predicting Radon levels in homes based on geology

Gayle Gleason, SUNY Cortland Geology Department
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This page first made public: Aug 8, 2014

Summary

By supplementing existing traditional labs on mineral and rock identification, and on interpreting geologic maps, and creating a lab time for analyzing data available on the web, the students will determine if indoor radon levels correlate best to bedrock geology or to glacial deposits in New York State.

Context

Audience

Introductory Physical Geology lab for first year college students, preferably self-identified as interested in science (in New York state).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Within our existing Physical Geology course, we have traditional labs on mineral and rock identification, and geologic map interpretation (in addition to other map reading, plate tectonics, hydrogeology, and a field trip). This research experience will supplement the six lab periods in which students learn mineral and rock identification, and geologic map interpretation.

How the activity is situated in the course

This project will be built in to seven lab periods and one field trip. For six of these lab periods, most of the time will be spent doing traditional lab exercises in mineral and rock identification, and geologic map interpretation. Part of each of these periods will be spend relating the material just covered to Radon sources and predicting relative levels of Radon in homes in various counties in NYS. The field trip will help illustrate concepts of bedrock geology and glacial deposits which will then be applied tot he question: Do indoor radon levels correlate best to bedrock geology or to glacial deposits in New York State?

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

Content goals include mineral and rock identification, geologic map interpretation, basics of Radon in homes.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Analyzing NYS Dept of Health data on Radon measurements in homes.
Correlating that data to geologic bedrock maps and/or glacial deposit maps.

Other skills goals for this activity

Project is written up as a report by each student.
Students do work in groups.

Description and Teaching Materials

Within our existing Physical Geology course, we have traditional labs on mineral and rock identification, and geologic map interpretation (in addition to other map reading, plate tectonics, hydrogeology, and a field trip). This research experience will supplement the six lab periods in which students learn mineral and rock identification, and geologic map interpretation.
1. During the first of the two lab periods on mineral and hand sample identification, we will discuss as a group what elements are in the minerals and which associated elements produce Radon. We will use the departmental Geiger counter to test our ideas. Then students will be asked to do some library (web) research on what minerals are associated with Radon.
2. During the second of the two lab periods on mineral and hand sample identification, we will discuss as a group the results of their research.
3. During the first of the two lab periods on rock and hand sample identification, we will discuss as a group which minerals are in which rocks and thus which rocks we expect to be radioactive. We will use the departmental Geiger counter to test our ideas. Then students will be asked to do some library (web) research on what rocks are associated with Radon.
4. During the second of the two lab periods on rocks and hand sample identification, we will discuss as a group the results of their research, and test more rocks with the Geiger counter.
5. On the field trip the following week, these ideas will be discussed and bedrock and glacial deposits will be observed. Information on soil radon values in different types of glacial deposits will be discussed.
6. Students will be split into 2 groups. Students in one group will then be asked to hypothesize, using a bedrock geologic map of NYS, which areas of NYS will have high radon levels. Students in the second group will then be asked to hypothesize, using a glacial deposits map, which areas of NYS will have high radon levels. This will be done outside of class as an assignment to be completed within two weeks.
7. After two weeks, one lab period will be devoted to looking up NYS Health Department data on radon measurements in homes by county. Students will compare the data to their predictions for different counties. We will discuss what factors we did not take into account that might influence the results.
8. Students will write up a report on their findings.
9. Any interested students will be encouraged to present a poster at the Spring Semester "Transformations", a day of research presentations at SUNY Cortland




Teaching Notes and Tips

This is a work in progress and I will be uploading files and giving tips over the next five months as I gain more experience with this project.

Assessment

A "control" lab section will be carrying out traditional labs the same semester. I will be comparing results on mineral and rock identification tests to see if the students involved in this project were more motivated to learn how to ID minerals and rocks than the control group. In addition, both groups will be tested on interpretation of geological maps. I will be comparing these results to see if the students involved in this project understand geologic maps more than the control group.

References and Resources

Gundersen, L.C.S., & Schumann, R.R., 1996. Mapping the radon potential of the United States: Examples from the Appalachians. Environment International, Vol. 22, pp. S829-S837.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1986, A citizen's guide to radon: Office of Air and Radiation, OPA-86-004, 14 p.

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