Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


This course, which is the first subject in the Nuclear Science and Engineering undergraduate degree sequence, has no prerequisites. It is generally taken in the first semester of sophomore year, after two semesters of freshman calculus and physics.

Introduction to the Course

Radiation is the central aspect which makes Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) its own discipline, and sets the foundation for almost all of modern physics. We will begin by retracing the steps of famous radiation experiments and hypotheses. Next we will set the stage and context for our study of radiation, by showing details of the systems and reactors which use radiation. The rest of the course (about 75%) will be dedicated to describing the origins, interactions, uses, detection, and biological / chemical effects of ionizing radiation.


Buy at Amazon Yip, Sidney. Nuclear Radiation Interactions. World Scientific Publishing Company, 2014. ISBN: 9789814368070.


Homeworks (10) 4% each (40% total)
Quizzes (3) 20% each (60% total)

Assignments Policies

Working Together, Academic Integrity

Working together is OK! If you work in a team, you must:

  1. Acknowledge your team members prominently in the assignment, whether it is analytical or laboratory based
  2. Write your own laboratory articles from scratch
  3. Write / typeset your own problem sets (no xeroxing)
  4. State who did which parts of the assignment. If we sense that someone is doing almost all the work, we will meet with you to prevent this sort of thing.

In addition, all students must read the MIT guidelines on academic honesty and integrity.

Late Policy

10% of the value of a given assignment will be deducted for each calendar day late.


Session Key:

L = Lecture

R = Recitation

Q = Quiz or exam

Part 0: Course Introduction
L1 Radiation history to the present  
R1 Demonstration: Sputter coater plasma  
L2 Radiation-utilizing technologies  
L3 Introduction to nuclear power production Problem set 1 due
R2 Tour MIT Alcator C-Mod fusion reactor  
Part I: Energetics, Radioactive Decay, Half-life
L4 Nuclear mass and stability: Nuclear mass, nuclear structure, binding energy  
L5 Nuclear mass and stability (cont.): Nuclear stability, mass parabolas  
R3 Deriving the semi-empirical mass formula  
L6 Radioactive decay: Alpha, beta, and gamma decay; decay schemes, internal conversion, electron capture Problem set 2 due
L7 Radioactive decay (cont.): Decay energetics, general kinematics and the Q-equation  
R4 99Tcm, medical imaging, positron annihilation spectroscopy (PAS)  
L8 Radioactive decay (cont.): Activity, exponential decay, half-life Problem set 3 due
L9 Successive decays, statistics, and precision  
R5 Demonstration: New and old Cesium source measurement  
Q1 Quiz 1: Energetics, radioactive decay, half-life  
L10 Statistics, precision, solid angle Create banana ash for problem set 5
Part II: Radiation Interactions, Shielding, Energy Loss through Matter
L11 Radiation interactions: Gamma (photon) scattering and absorption, mass attenuation  
L12 Visit High Purity Germanium (HPGe) detector in the MIT Nuclear Reactor Lab, to measure potassium spectra of banana ashes (for Problem Set 5) Problem set 4 due
L13 Radiation interactions: Ion-nuclear  

Quiz 1 review

Myth-busting the Shroud of Turin

L14 Radiation Interactions: Bremsstrahlung (ion radiation losses) Problem set 5 due
L15 Radiation interactions with matter  
R7 X-ray and proton therapy  
L16 Neutron transport, criticality Problem set 6 due

Neutronics and neutron interactions

Effective shielding and detection

R8 Demonstration: MIT reactor power ramping, control rod insertion  
Q2 Quiz 2: Radiation interactions, shielding, energy loss through matter  
Part III: Radiation in Our Environment and Its Effects
L18 Radiation dose, detection, and dosimetry  
L19 Background radiation and cosmic rays Problem set 7 due
R9 Demonstration: Dosimetry  
L20 Chemical and biological effects of radiation: Short term Problem set 8 due
R10 Chernobyl safety course recap  
L21 Chemical and biological effects of radiation: Long term  
L22 Hormesis, linear no-threshold models Problem set 9 due

The Demon core

"Arguing with Greenpeace" debate

L23 Radiation hormesis: Real or not?  
L24 Food irradiation Problem set 10 due

Irradiated food party

Quiz 3 review

Q3 Quiz 3