Trainee teachers and ionising radiation: understandings, attitudes and risk assessments. A descriptive study in one institution

University of Birmingham, United Kingdom


This study described UK trainee teachers’ understandings of and attitudes to radioactivity and ionising radiation, in one School of Education. The investigation addressed three research questions. The first focussed on the understanding of alpha, beta and gamma radiations. The second looked at risk assessments involving alpha, beta and gamma radiations and, the third, explored attitudes to alpha, beta and gamma radiations. An innovative tool called ‘interviews about experimental scenarios’ (IAES) and survey questionnaires were administered to physics, chemistry, biology and history specialists. The collected evidence supported the hypothesis that increased time spent in formal science education correlates with a better understanding and more positive and rational attitudes. The trainee teachers were considered to be well-educated members of the public and, therefore, the findings to offer a reasonable ‘best-case scenario’ of the public understanding of science. However, understanding was incomplete and misconceptions existed. Unique to this research were the misconceptions that alpha, beta and gamma radiations reflect back from shiny surfaces similar to light and also refract in water. The study identified implications arising from its findings and made specific recommendations for communicators of science to the public, Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development for teachers.

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