Day 144: Stochastic Nature of Radiation

Today, students explored the stochastic nature of radiation my measuring the beta decay from samples of Tl-204. The lab doesn’t require a great deal of interaction; so, we discussed other topics while gathering data. I like to share the story of the assassination of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210. This gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast beta decay and alpha decay.


The original version of the lab came from a colleague at our sister high school. The analysis and discussion questions have students calculate the full-width at half-max for the histogram. Is this a common statistical measure for this type of data? I’m not familiar with it in this context and not sure why calculating the standard deviation wouldn’t suffice. Any ideas?

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