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Question about Space Radiation Protection activity

Postby Melalthia » Sun Jan 09, 2022 2:13 pm


My 7th grader is really interested in this project and wants to ask if their experiment idea would be a good way to test the project.

They want test how well different materials work in shielding a biological organism from the Earth to the Moon, compare and contrast those materials to what they were using for the Apollo missions to now, and suggest the best materials based on the experiment findings.

The experiment they have in mind: Using a plant as the biological organism, measure the radiation exposure levels at varying rates of exposure, and then use different materials as “shielding’ to compare and contrast the difference.


1)They are unsure if the radiation levels from the source suggested would be strong enough to effect a plant? If so, is there any thing they should keeping in mind setting up the lab conditions to make sure results would be focused on the radiation.

2) they are trying to come up with a list of materials to use for shielding, and they know that the Apollo missions used gold kapton foil as heat shields but not sure what could be used as a stand in? Their ultimate goal is try and figure out what material works the best and determine how much we’ve improved since, so they would be researching what materials are used today. What questions should they consider when researching what materials should be used?

Thank you very much!
-melanie cordan
Mom of Gavin Young

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The activity can be viewed at: Space Radiation Protection

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Re: Question about Space Radiation Protection activity

Postby AmyCowen » Fri Jan 14, 2022 8:27 pm

Hi Melanie and Gavin - I talked with one of our scientists about your questions. I am pasting the reply below.

It is a lovely idea. Thank you for reaching out to us with your questions! The sources of radioactive material you can freely use (i.e. without a license) are quite safe; this also means it is unlikely they will see a measurable change in plant life for plants exposed to these sources. They can, however, measure with instruments how effectively shields made of different materials absorb or reflect radiation.

If they accept that life is sensitive to these types of radiation, their experiment will still show how to protect it. The following resource might be helpful to learn more about radiation and its impact on life: ... ion-safety

They should also know that cosmic radiation is made up of many kinds of radiation. None of the radiation sources they can find on Earth will match the spectrum found in space, but they can measure the effectiveness of the different types of shielding for one or several types of radiation separately. They will probably need a Geiger counter to measure the level of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is a cluster of the energetic radiation; ionization that can damage life. If they decide to use a Geiger counter, I would advise them to read the description of how to look for a Geiger counter that measures ionizing radiation listed in the project ... protection

It is easy to mix up radiation detectors. Looking at what was used in the past and what is being researched now as shielding material is a great idea.

I believe a thin layer of gold was used to protect astronauts’ eyes against infrared light, to protect against ultraviolet radiation, and as an insulator. They can try aluminum foil instead. I think gold was used because it allows visible light to pass through when the film is thin. Aluminum foil might not, or might not be as pliable to easily use in space applications, but for their experiment, aluminum foil also reflects ultraviolet and infrared light. Note that infrared light cannot be measured with a Geiger counter, its energy is too low. Prolonged exposure is still an issue for the eyes. Some questions to ask your student include:
· Cosmic radiation is made up of a lot of different kinds of radiations that can be harmful to life. Can you find out what type is abundant between Earth and its moon? Which of these types are harmful to humans?
· Once you know what types are abundant and harmful, what source you can find on Earth for at least one of these types of radiation?
· For each of the shielding materials used in history, maybe you can find why it was used, i.e. what type of radiation was it intended to protect against?
Good luck to your student with their project and feel free to post additional questions if they have any as they proceed!

I hope this helps!

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Re: Question about Space Radiation Protection activity

Postby Melalthia » Tue Jan 18, 2022 9:30 pm

Awesome! Thank you so much for the thoughtful answer!
You gave them a lot to think about. After I had posted this question to the forum, they had already determined the source of radiation was probably too safe to effect a plant so this is right in line with how the project is evolving! I will post an update when the project gets further along and thank you for being available for further questions. Exciting!

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