University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Narrative Assignment in Chemistry

Professor Cathy Middlecamp, Integrated Liberal Studies 251

Project #2 – Radioactivity and People

ILS 251 has several higher order learning goals. One is that you are able to take what you learn in one context and apply it to another. This project offers you the opportunity. We hope you will enjoy it. To quote a former student, the project was “one of my favorites to work on in my college career!”

GRADING: Please check the grading criteria and due dates for all parts of this project.

OVERVIEW: This semester, you have encountered two stories in which people and radioactive substances were intimately connected. The first was the Radium Girls; the second the Firecracker Boys. Your task is to find a third story—anywhere on the planet—that involves people and radioactivity.

VIEW FROM A STUDENT: Lindsay wrote this essay for future students taking ILS 251. Her project
was closely connected with art, one of her interests. Her research connected her to the sculpture of
Tony Price, an atomic artist and peace activist. To quote Lindsay, “I found Tony Price and immediately knew he was my guy.”

EXAMPLES: Please examine these topics from previous years. Each concerns both people and radioactive substances. The people are citizens in a city or town, an indigenous group, those living at a particular location, or perhaps those carrying out a common job or mission. The radioactivity may involve contamination of the land, leukemia or lung cancer, the disposal of nuclear waste, testing of
atomic weapons, nuclear accidents, the medical experimentation with radioisotopes, or perhaps just having a radioisotope in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Storing Nuclear Waste on Tribal Lands – Yucca Mountain
  • Depleted Uranium (DU) in Iraq – A Weapon of Mass Destruction
  • The H-Bomb and the Marshallese People
  • Plutonium and the Workers at Kerr McGee Corporation
  • The Palomares Incident in Spain
  • The Secret Disaster at Mayak

YOUR TOPIC: You each need your own area of inquiry. Accordingly, you must confirm your topic
with your instructor before you begin your research. If you wish to work on a particular topic, claim it early. Once your instructor has all of the topics, she will group them according to a master plan (optimistically she can find one). You will know the date of your presentation before spring break.

YOUR PAPER: Mid-semester, you will submit a polished 5-page paper. Your paper must present the reader with a thesis; that is, a point of view that you introduce and later revisit in your conclusion. The
first version should be your best work (NOT a “draft”) because several of us are going to invest significant time & energy in reviewing what you wrote. Please use this format:

  • Software Microsoft Word
  • Format Double-spaced, 1 inch margins, 12-point font, page numbers at bottom center
  • Page 1 Title, your name, date, & name of your Writing Fellow
  • Page 2-6 Body of your paper
  • Page 7+ Any figures, tables, photographs
  • Final page References. Follow this Style Guide

Your Writing Fellow will provide written feedback on your paper and meet with you to discuss specifics. Look to your Writing fellow for (1) help in developing and conveying your thesis, and (2) tips for writing with clarity and style. Your instructor will offer feedback on (1) your content, helping to troubleshoot any glitches, and (2) your references, making sure that you are citing correctly. Use this dual feedback to revise your paper. You will submit a second version at the end of the semester.

THE CLASS PRESENTATION: During April and May, we will dedicate class time to student presentations. These will be scheduled during the period, each for 50 minutes. As part of your presentation, please provide your peers with (1) an assignment to prepare for the class, and (2) a handout of your own design. In turn, your peers will provide you with an assessment.