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15barcam's avatar

I need help find tuning my science fair question. HELP?

Asked by 15barcam (748 points ) January 5th, 2011

I’ve done my test on the radioactivity levels in granite countertops used in peoples’ homes. The general question i have in mind is “What is the range of radioactivity levels in granite counter tops and are the levels high enough to effect a person?” but lets all admit, that sounds pretty bad. Any ideas? I can tweak the wording as much as a want, but I can only redirect the question a tiny bit. I need to know as quickly as possible; my sciene teacher expects me to know by tomarrow for a GRADE and a big one too!

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12 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What are the range and effects of radioactivity levels found in granite counter tops?

jaytkay's avatar

A measurement of a non-granite top would be good. A bunch of them would be better.

Then the question can be “Are radioactivity levels higher in peoples’ homes with granite countertops?”

Whether they are harmful? I would Google for acceptable levels of background radiation in households.

6rant6's avatar

“Just how deadly are your kitchen counters?”

but then I’m in marketing

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Well… first things first: Welcome to Fluther.

As you start to study radioactivity you’ll find that no one even knows for certain if there are measurable human effects to radioactivity below a certain level of around 25 Rem. There are some scientists who think that there are small effects, and they may actually be beneficial, and others who think that there are ‘slight changes’ in blood only, and those effects are minimal and neither bad nor good. Above 25 Rem there are more and more changes detected.

So 25 Rem is set as a threshold lifetime dose that “we don’t have to worry about”, which is why the NRC sets an allowable annual dose at (I think I recall) around 2.5 Rem, and in practice limits the exposure of radiation workers to much less than that, in order to ensure that they never exceed the annual dose.

This means that in order to be commercially available for sale in the USA, your granite counter top (or any other consumer product sold without restrictions) has to emit less than 2 mR (milli-Rem, or 1/1000 th of a Rem) per hour at a minimal distance. In other words, you can detect and measure some amount of radiation from the product, but nothing that you could then measure for its effect in people, at least not with whatever tools and methodology you’re likely to use in a school science project.

Some of the suggested studies aren’t bad, but one thing that you’re going to need as you study ‘radioactivity in granite counter tops’ is the background radiation in people’s homes even without granite. Concrete has some radioactivity, as well as the radon that some people still have in their homes. And since many parts of the country (New England, for example) are close to granite ledges, then they’ll already have some background radiation from that. Parts of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains will also have more cosmic radiation, because of the thinner atmosphere overhead (and the rocks near the surface), and areas near coal deposits also may have ‘significant’ (though not ‘unsafe’) levels of radiation.

There’s a lot to know about radiation, and it’s a good project to get into, but… there’s a limit to how much you can learn about it in one night in order to submit any kind of testable hypothesis for your science project tomorrow.

Cruiser's avatar

Cite facts from the EPA and Marble Institute

Good luck!

crisw's avatar

I taught science fair for years. A few suggestions (CyanoticWasp had some great ones as well!)-

I am sure you are aware that you aren’t really doing an experiment, as you aren’t manipulating anything, you are just measuring something. If that’s OK with your teacher, that’s fine, but many times teachers are looking for actual experiments.

What was your hypothesis? “What is the range of radioactivity levels in granite counter tops and are the levels high enough to [a]ffect a person?”.” isn’t really a hypothesis. “Levels of radiation in granite countertops contribute significantly to human radiation exposure” would be a hypothesis.

Have you already collected your data? If so, what was your control for background radiation? What did your data show? How did you determine if any measurements were statistically significant? If you haven’t done these yet, how do you plan to do them?

Smashley's avatar

These guys have good ideas, I just wanted to add, WHATEVER you do, remember that “effect” is a noun, “AFFECT” is the verb.

gailcalled's avatar

@Smashley: Don’t confuse us.

Both affect and effect are nouns and verbs. Read all about them

15barcam's avatar

ummm, why am i sneaky devil? I forgot my last password

Smashley's avatar

@gailcalled – Fair enough, in those exceptions, you are correct. It is a good general rule of thumb though; something the OP would have benefited from thinking of.

gailcalled's avatar

@Smashley: I know, I know. Baby steps initially.

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