Radioactivity and Radiation Interactions (PHYS*3170)

Code and section: PHYS*3170*01

Term: Fall 2020

Instructor: Ralf Gellert


Course Information


Ralf Gellert 
Office: MacN 450
Ext.: 53992 


Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:30 − 12:50 remote through zoom, skype or teams, TBD

Course Description

This course introduces the student to concepts in radiation physics with underlying emphasis on its practical application in medical physics. Topics include: atomic and nuclear structure, introduction to different types of radiation and their reaction mechanisms, natural and artificially generated radioisotopes, the interaction of radiation with matter, radioactive decay processes, human dosimetry calculations and external radiation shielding. This course is meant to provide the student with the capacity to carry out calculations in this field and provide context to material taught in upper level physics courses.


(1 of IPS*1510, Math*1210, Math*2080) and (Math*2170 or Math*2270)


James E. Turner, "Atoms, Radiation, and Radiation Protection", 3rd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2007. The textbook can be used as supporting reading material during the course. It is available electronically as an ebook through the library website, search primo for Turner and radiation


Component Weight
Online Quizzes 10%
Assignments  30%
Midterm Exam 30%
Final Exam 30%

The weekly short online quizzes will probe the material discussed throughout the semester. The 5 assignments will be posted on the courselink site typically 10 days before the due date. Submission of a merged pdf file of your papers will be through a dropbox folder. Late assignments will be deducted 10% per day and no assignments can be accepted after the posting of the solutions typically 2 days after the due date. Contact the instructor in advance if your submission is delayed due to excusable circumstances.

Midterm and Final Exam

The midterm and final exams will be conducted remotely through respondus or zoom video calls. The midterm date will be coordinated with all other third- and fourth-year courses. The final exam is scheduled TBD by the registrar. Both the midterm and final exam will be closed book. You will be provided with an equation sheet in advance. In addition, you are allowed to prepare a one page, handwritten cheat sheet. Usual non-programmable pocket calculators will be permitted. 

If you miss the midterm exam due to illness or compassionate reasons, you need to provide the instructor with a waiver slip. See your Program Counsellor if you require assistance. If you miss the final examination, see your Program Counsellor. Please refer to “Process for Academic Consideration and Appeals” in the 2020/21 Undergraduate Calendar.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, you should be familiar with:

  • Basics of nuclear physics that explains natural occurring and artificially produced radioactive elements and their decay mechanisms
  • The types of radiation and their interaction with matter and living cells
  • The concepts and application of dose and exposure to assess the damaging effects of radiation on cells and organisms 
  • Applications of nuclear physics in medicine (diagnosis and treatments) and science


The following schedule provides a rough guide of the material covered during the semester.  

Week Topic
Week 1 Introduction, nuclear physics and binding energy
Week 2  Coulomb barrier, decays modes
Week 3 Decay chains
Week 4 Interaction of charged particles with matter
Week 5 Interaction of photons (x-rays, \(\gamma\)) with matter, x-ray tubes, shielding
Week 6  Energy fluence, dose
Week 7 Interaction of neutrons with matter
Week 8 Dosimetry
Week 9 Microdosimetry
Week 10  Equivalent and effective dose
Week 11 Application of nuclear physics in medical diagnostics and treatment
Week 12  Reviews before midterms and finals

It is required to regularly check the Courselink webpage, where lecture material notes, assignments and solutions and further materials are posted. The typical weekly short quizzes will probe and solidify the main concepts and materials covered in that week. 

(Not) Working With Other Students

All work submitted for grading in this course must be each individual student's own work. While students are encouraged to share thoughts and ideas, it is not acceptable to share assignment solutions. The work on the assignments, i.e. to start filling the blank paper with calculations based on the concepts and examples discussed in the lectures, is an essential step in the solid understanding of the material and crucial for the preparation for the exams.

Office Hours

Tentatively, Tuesday and Thursday, the instructor will be available for video chats for one hour. Additional chats can be arranged through emails or discussions in the lectures.

Class resources

The course website is on CourseLink Desire to Learn (D2L) website. All students registered in this course have access through their University of Guelph Central Login account. 
Other possible Resources for in-detail discussions:

  • K.S.Krane, “Introductory Nuclear Physics”, 3rd Edition, Wiley, 1987.
  • W. E. Burcham, “Nuclear Physics, An Introduction”, 2nd edition, Longmans, 1973.
  • C. M. Lederer and V.S. Shirley, “Table of Isotopes”, 7th (or 6th) edition, Wiley, 1978.
  • H. Cember, “Introduction to Health Physics”, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, 1992.
  • H. E. Johns and J. R. Cunningham, “The Physics of Radiology”, 4th edition, Charles C. Thomas, 1983.
  • N. A. Dyson, “X-rays in Atomic and Nuclear Physics”, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • E. J. Hall and A. J. Giaccia, “Radiobiology for the Radiologist”, 7th (or 5th and 6th) edition, Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.

Course Policies


The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community's shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the Student Accessibility Services as soon as possible. For more information, contact SAS at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email  

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph takes a serious view of academic misconduct and will severely penalize students, faculty and staff who are found guilty of offenses associated with misappropriation of others' work, misrepresentation of personal performance and fraud, improper access to scholarly resources, and obstructing others in pursuit of their academic endeavours. Each student is assumed to be familiar with the regulations surrounding academic misconducts, as spelled out in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Course and Instructor evaluation

The Department of Physics requires student assessment of all courses taught by the Department. These assessments provide essential feedback to faculty on their teaching by identifying both strengths and possible areas of improvement. In addition, annual student assessment of teaching provides part of the information used by the Department Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member's contribution in the area of teaching. 

The Department's teaching evaluation questionnaire invites student response both through numerically quantifiable data, and written student comments. In conformity with University of Guelph Faculty Policy, the Department Tenure and Promotions Committee only considers comments signed by students or by choosing \I agree" in question 14 (online process). Your instructor will see all signed and unsigned comments after final grades are submitted. Written student comments may also be used in support of a nomination for internal and external teaching awards. 

NOTE: No information will be passed on to the instructor until after the final grades have been submitted.


Please note that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may necessitate a revision of the format of course offerings and academic schedules. Any such changes will be announced via CourseLink and/or class email. All University-wide decisions will be posted on the COVID-19 website and circulated by email.  


The University will not require verification of illness (doctor's notes) for the fall 2020 or winter 2021 semesters.