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Topic: Fukushima Math (aka Chernobyl Math): by September please
Replies: 1   Last Post: Aug 26, 2013 1:31 PM

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kirby urner

Posts: 3,690
Registered: 11/29/05
Fukushima Math (aka Chernobyl Math): by September please
Posted: Aug 25, 2013 10:55 PM
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Long timers in math reform know of something
called Rainforest Math, which purportedly dilutes
actual math test-taking skills in favor of prosecuting
some "enviro-agenda" relating to the rainforests
of Brazil and changes to the planetary surface
mix (ratios) of land usage.

However, given recent threads about "log
sense", where log( ) is an inverse of exp( )
on your calculator, we have new reason to re-
visit these memes, as dilution, through osmosis
through time, is again a theme. Isotopes of
cesium (isotopes = an approved STEM topic)
have their half lives. Their rate of decay is

The half life of the various radio-toxins needs to
start claiming more of a percentage of the total
time allotment based on the vagaries of food prep
and its role in the curriculum. Home Economics.

How likely is a slab of fish to contain radioactive
cesium atoms? These little time bombs go off
randomly and send ridiculously tiny "bullets"
through the flesh of your body. There's no
bleeding or pain. A healthy meal of fish might
be worth the risk of a few time bombs, but how
many? There's lots of STEM converging here,
as we look at the affects of "tiny bullets" on
fragile strands of DNA. These bullets can kill
cancer cells, not just cause them.

Fukushima or "Chernobyl Physics" is what we
might call it on the PER list, which has some
overlap with this one (in terms of both content
and subscribers). The physics of a nuclear
meltdown are now much better understood than
in the early 1900s, when large scale failures were
more a theoretical responsibility. The interaction
of a core and a water table is instructive, not just
for geologists. Hanford, Chernobyl, Fukushima,
all have relationships to groundwater providing
story problems for generations to come. None
of these "situations" are anywhere close to "done".
There's no danger of curricular irrelevance
(the dry rot in any curriculum) any time soon.

What's usefully teachable with mathematics about
cesium atoms is their discrete mechanics. We know
the number of neutrons, and have an understanding
of the decay chain the byproducts. Accessing the
periodic table with the hindsight of an early 21st
century person, after Earth had been widely
contaminated, meant more appreciation at the
gut-level of nuclear fission, and what it means to
biological processes -- including as diagnostic
and therapeutic tools (radioactive dyes, PET scans,
radiation therapy etc).

As the cesium plume from Fukushima drifts towards
Cascadia, engulfing Hawaii, the availability of
relevant curriculum materials is still too limited.
I call on the NCTM, MAA and the Dept of Education
to get to work, in collaboration with NOAA and
the NRC. Or rather, I call in my representatives
to propose legislation to... nah, there isn't time.
Posting to math-teach is what I'll do.

Small advisory commissions made of delegates
should start the wheels turning such that schools
open this September with intelligent things to teach
on these subjects. Parental concern is already high,
regarding the conflicting reports regarding safety
levels and how many ticking time bombs per cup
of milk should be allowed. There's no time to mass
publish lots of wood pulp stuff (Cascadians don't
tend to go for that anyway). The web sites should
be full of useful story problems and teacher guides.
Your government in action, responsible people at the

Within what average radius of the Chernobyl melt
down site is it still unsafe to live? (Hint: this is
known as "the exclusion zone" or "the zone of

What is the half-life of cesium-137? Cesium-134?

Below is a list of readings from sensors A, B, C
placed at the vertexes of triangle ABC. If you knew
these sensors were ocean- based, what might you
reasonably conclude about the direction of the
current. Draw an arrow.

More Readings for Research: (Chernobyl documentary)

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