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published by the PhET
written by Mark Blaisdell
This student hand-out was created specifically to accompany the PhET simulation "Nuclear Fission". Appropriate for grades 8-12, it provides guided directions on using the simulation to ensure that students stay focused on learning goals. The simulation features a neutron gun that "fires" an accelerated neutron into a Uranium-235 nucleus. By using this printed guide, students will be prompted to think about what happens in a nuclear reaction, what makes a nucleus "fissionable" and how nuclear power containment vessels prevent a runaway chain reaction.  

The fission simulation, which must be open and displayed to complete this activity, is available from PhET at: Nuclear Fission.

This lesson is part of PhET (Physics Education Technology Project), a large collection of free interactive simulations for science education.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
Modern Physics
- Nuclear Physics
= Models of the Nucleus
= Nuclear Reactions
= Radioactivity
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Problem/Problem Set
= Student Guide
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- Educators
- application/ms-word
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© 2009 University of Colorado at Boulder
Additional information is available.
U-235, Uranium-235, atom, chain reaction, fission, isotope, nuclear fission, nuclear properties, radioactivity, radioactivity lesson
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 19, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 18, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
July 8, 2009
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AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3C. Issues in Technology
  • 9-12: 3C/H5. Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 6-8: 4D/M1a. All matter is made up of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a microscope.
  • 9-12: 4D/H1. Atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The nucleus is a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom but makes up almost all of its mass. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons which have roughly the same mass but differ in that protons are positively charged while neutrons have no electric charge.
  • 9-12: 4D/H2. The number of protons in the nucleus determines what an atom's electron configuration can be and so defines the element. An atom's electron configuration, particularly the outermost electrons, determines how the atom can interact with other atoms. Atoms form bonds to other atoms by transferring or sharing electrons.
  • 9-12: 4D/H3. Although neutrons have little effect on how an atom interacts with other atoms, the number of neutrons does affect the mass and stability of the nucleus. Isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons (and therefore of electrons) but differ in the number of neutrons.
  • 9-12: 4D/H4. The nucleus of radioactive isotopes is unstable and spontaneously decays, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. It cannot be predicted exactly when, if ever, an unstable nucleus will decay, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability of decay rate allows radioactivity to be used for estimating the age of materials that contain radioactive substances.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

High School — Functions (9-12)

Linear, Quadratic, and Exponential Models? (9-12)
  • F-LE.1.c Recognize situations in which a quantity grows or decays by a constant percent rate per unit interval relative to another.
  • F-LE.3 Observe using graphs and tables that a quantity increasing exponentially eventually exceeds a quantity increasing linearly, quadratically, or (more generally) as a polynomial function.
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AIP Format
M. Blaisdell, (PhET, Boulder, 2009), WWW Document, (
M. Blaisdell, PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide, (PhET, Boulder, 2009), <>.
APA Format
Blaisdell, M. (2009, July 8). PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from PhET:
Chicago Format
Blaisdell, Mark. PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide. Boulder: PhET, July 8, 2009. (accessed 7 May 2021).
MLA Format
Blaisdell, Mark. PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide. Boulder: PhET, 2009. 8 July 2009. 7 May 2021 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Mark Blaisdell", Title = {PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2021}, Number = {7 May 2021}, Month = {July 8, 2009}, Year = {2009} }
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%A Mark Blaisdell
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide
%D July 8, 2009
%C Boulder
%O application/ms-word

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%0 Electronic Source
%A Blaisdell, Mark
%D July 8, 2009
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide
%V 2021
%N 7 May 2021
%8 July 8, 2009
%9 application/ms-word

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PhET Teacher Activities: Nuclear Fission Simulation - Student Guide:

Requires PhET Simulation: Nuclear Fission

A link to the PhET simulation "Nuclear Fission", which this student guide was specifically created to supplement.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as PhET Teacher Activities: Modeling Isotopes

An editor-recommended lesson to guide beginners in modeling atoms and their variant isotopes. It goes with the PhET simulation Isotopes and Atomic Mass.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as PhET Teacher Activities: Alpha Decay Investigations

A lesson plan that accompanies the PhET simulation Alpha Decay, intended for AP and algebra-based physics students with prior exposure to half-life and fundamental understanding of nuclear decay.

relation by Caroline Hall

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