Using AI to Source Phenomena

text: Using AI to Source Phenomena

This year I’ve been working extra hard as my state, Indiana, has made a big switch: we adopted NGSS. I’m really excited about the change in how we are teaching chemistry, but adopting a whole new, very different style of standards has come with a lot of work to update and replace older activities. Specifically, I’ve really embraced the incorporation of phenomena, and our PLC has identified this as a particular focus this year. With using phenomena to introduce a unit, to ground our labs, and to work towards the end goal of applying knowledge to real-world, previously unseen phenomena on our tests we need many real-world examples for students to consider. We’ve been seeing amazing results from our students with higher level thinking and deeper analysis than ever before, so the work is paying off. While many teachers have a stockpile of stories and experiences, it can be difficult to come up with 12-15 different phenomena for a unit. I feel very fortunate that Indiana made this shift in the age of AI.

During our recent unit on Nuclear Chemistry, we knew that we wanted students to respond to a question on the test that was supported by a short text on medical imaging. In thinking about this text and writing the test, I asked ChatGPT to respond to the following prompt:

Me: Please write a chemistry I test that covers the NGSS standard HS-PS1-8. The test should include the topics of fission vs fusion, radioactive decay equations, evaluating models of radioactive decay, and half life. The test should be based around phenomena, targeted at a 10th grade level and should have a minimum of 3 questions.

I asked for 3 questions, knowing that I would also be creating review/practice materials. ChatGPT responded with 3 multiple choice questions. Here was the first question it gave me:

Question 1: Fission vs. Fusion (Phenomena-Based)

Imagine you are a scientist observing a star in space. You notice that the star is undergoing a process that releases a tremendous amount of energy. Which of the following processes could be responsible for this phenomenon?

A) Fission 

B) Fusion 

C) Both fission and fusion 

D) Neither fission nor fusion

The important thing to remember about Chat GPT is that it is different from a Google search. In Google, you start a whole new search every time you enter a different search phrase. Chat GPT is designed to be conversational, so you can ask it to modify its response - you don't have to start from scratch to tweak your results. I didn't want multiple choice questions, so I told Chat GPT to redesign the questions it gave me to consist of free response questions. Instead of getting better questions, the questions became very vague and too broad to work for a fair assessment. I then input a third request, asking ChatGPT to be more specific:

Me: Write a test question that addresses the same requirements as above that incorporates a specific example from society that requires students to read a brief text.

This got me much closer to what I was looking for:

Read the following excerpt from a news article:

"In a nuclear power plant, uranium-235 undergoes a controlled process that releases a significant amount of energy through nuclear fission. This energy is harnessed to generate electricity, providing power to millions of homes. However, there are concerns about the long-term disposal of nuclear waste, which remains radioactive and poses environmental risks for thousands of years."

Based on the provided text, answer the following questions:

a) Explain how nuclear fission is used in nuclear power plants to generate electricity.

b) What societal and environmental concerns are associated with the use of nuclear energy, specifically related to the radioactive waste mentioned in the article?

We had already used nuclear power sources in class several times, so then I asked for a different phenomenon: 

Me: Write a question similar to the one above that meets the above requirements, but uses a phenomena of medical imaging using radioactive material.

Chat GPT then gave me this:

"In the field of medicine, radioactive isotopes are often employed for diagnostic purposes. For instance, in positron emission tomography (PET) scans, a small amount of a radioactive isotope is introduced into the patient's body. These isotopes emit positrons, which interact with electrons in the body, leading to the release of gamma rays. The detectors in the PET scanner record these gamma rays to create detailed images of metabolic activity within the patient's organs and tissues. This technology has revolutionized our ability to diagnose and monitor various medical conditions."

Based on the provided text, answer the following questions:

a) Describe the role of radioactive isotopes in positron emission tomography (PET) scans, including how they interact with the body and the purpose of gamma ray detection.

b) Discuss the significance of PET scans in the field of medicine and how they have impacted diagnostic capabilities.

Now I had something to work with! I didn’t use the questions that GPT produced, but I did use the reading as a prompt and was able to design a series of questions that required students to read the text and integrate their knowledge from the nuclear chemistry unit. 


The Review

Using what I learned from my experience with producing content for the test, I followed up with a request to help build a review activity:

Me: Please suggest 10 real-world scenarios with short (1-2 paragraph) texts that I can use to create a review activity covering nuclear chemistry - nuclear decay (alpha, beta and gamma), fission and fusion - as addressed in NGSS HS-PS1-8.

This more specific request gave great options that we then fleshed out with short texts (also AI generated) and questions that we used to help students build their skills in responding to questions after reading a text.

1. **Radiation Therapy (Gamma Decay)**: In cancer treatment, gamma radiation from a radioactive source is used to target and destroy cancer cells. This process, called radiation therapy, relies on the penetration ability of gamma rays to minimize damage to healthy tissues.

2. **Smoke Detector (Alpha Decay)**: Inside a smoke detector, a small amount of americium-241 (Am-241), which emits alpha particles, is used to ionize air molecules. When smoke particles enter the detector, it disrupts the ionization, triggering the alarm.

3. **Carbon Dating (Beta Decay)**: Archaeologists use carbon-14 (C-14) dating to estimate the age of ancient artifacts. C-14 undergoes beta decay, and by measuring the remaining C-14, scientists can determine the artifact's age.

4. **Nuclear Power Plants (Fission)**: Nuclear power plants use uranium-235 (U-235) fuel rods to initiate nuclear fission reactions, releasing energy that is used to generate electricity.

5. **Solar Fusion (Nuclear Fusion)**: The Sun primarily produces energy through nuclear fusion, where hydrogen atoms combine to form helium, releasing a tremendous amount of energy.

6. **Radiation Exposure (Gamma Decay)**: Occupational exposure to gamma radiation can occur in industries such as radiology. Workers use lead shielding to protect themselves from gamma rays' harmful effects. 

7. **Radiation Therapy for Food (Gamma Decay)**: In the food industry, gamma radiation is used to kill bacteria and pests in fruits, vegetables, and meat, extending their shelf life and ensuring food safety.

8. **Radioactive Isotope Labeling (Beta Decay)**: Researchers use radioactive isotopes, like phosphorus-32 (P-32), to label molecules in biological studies. Beta decay allows for tracking these molecules.

9. **Nuclear Weapons (Fission)**: Nuclear weapons, like atomic bombs, use nuclear fission to release an immense amount of energy in the form of an explosion, as demonstrated in the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

10. **Nuclear Fusion for Energy (Fusion)**: Scientists are researching nuclear fusion as a potentially cleaner and more abundant energy source for the future. Projects like ITER aim to harness the power of fusion on Earth.

My early experiences with Chat GPT have been both interesting and helpful. The main thing I’ve realized is that we need to modify our requests as AI generates responses. We should start with a prompt that is as specific as possible for what we want, and then rephrase our request depending on the answer given. I will continue to use AI to help me find entry points into my big ideas, as well as provide some support when I have a specific idea that I need to flesh out. I’ll share more about my experiences with using AI as I continue to use it as my new personal assistant!


Students that demonstrate understanding can develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.

*More information about all DCI for HS-PS1 can be found at and further resources at


Students that demonstrate understanding can develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment does not include quantitative calculation of energy released. Assessment is limited to alpha, beta, and gamma radioactive decays.


Emphasis is on simple qualitative models, such as pictures or diagrams, and on the scale of energy released in nuclear processes relative to other kinds of transformations.