Pre-university students’ conceptions regarding radiation and radioactivity in a medical context

Pier T. Siersma*, Henk J. Pol, Wouter R. van Joolingen, Adrie J. Visscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
94 Downloads (Pure)


In this study, the conceptions of pre-university level secondary students with respect to radiation and radioactivity were investigated. A literature review determined what was already known about secondary school students’ conceptions that differ from scientific theory, regarding radiation and radioactivity. Next, 12 Dutch students and their teachers were interviewed. Half of the already known student conceptions were confirmed in the interviews. The most persistent conception was students’ inability to distinguish between irradiation and contamination. All newly discovered conceptions, such as students’ idea that radiation can exist independently of the source of radiation, were discovered within a medical context. A remarkable finding was that students have full confidence in medical professionals, while at the same time they believe that all medical imaging techniques are dangerous. It can be concluded that curricular developments and changes in teaching contexts lead to changes in student conceptions concerning established topics. Knowledge of these conceptions and how to change them might be an important focus for teacher training, as teachers play a role in overcoming conceptions that do not correspond with prevailing scientific theories and, at the same time, may be a source of these conceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-196
Number of pages18
JournalInternational journal of science education
Issue number2
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021


  • education
  • Physics
  • radiation
  • secondary school
  • student conceptions


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