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When Steve Jones worked as a student teacher in Colombia, he discovered the rural village school had almost no equipment. He recalls having to improvise by making a mimeograph machine out of an old towel.

Later, helping out in Utah schools, he was dismayed to find that in one crucial respect - the equipment needed to teach about atomic energy - school science labs were just about as lacking.But from his experience as a Civil Defense volunteer, Jones knew the state had exactly what was needed to help educate students about atomic science. Stashed in storerooms since the big nuclear war scares of 35 and 40 years ago were thousands of like-new Geiger counters, many with their original instruction pamphlets.

When Jones inquired about getting them into the hands of science teachers, a state official told him they were likely to be returned to the federal government, he said. That almost certainly would consign them to a landfill.

So Jones mounted a drive to help the state's schools obtain the devices. It became his obsession, his dream.

The dream came true Friday at the annual convention of the Utah Science Teachers Association, held at the University of Utah Olpin Union Building.

Scores of happy teachers queued up to collect Geiger counters for their classrooms. A smiling Jones stood behind a table crowded with the bright yellow instruments, helping to hand them out.

Many of the teachers signed a huge postcard to be sent to Gov. Mike Leavitt, thanking him for the state's cooperation.

"Steve's done most of the work," said Gary M. Sandquist, a professor in the U.'s Mechanical Engineering Department, who assisted with the giveaway. "He got it turned around."

The university not only made its Union Building available for the convention, it also set aside a classroom where Geiger counters can be stored until they go to schools throughout the state.

Jones is a house painter who lives on Salt Lake City's southwest side. But he retains a love of teaching dating back to his early training. He often helps out in the classroom, particularly at one of a science teacher at South Davis Junior High, Bountiful. He also conducted a workshop at West Jordan Middle School.

As part of his campaign to get the Geiger counters to the teachers, Jones enlisted the help of Utah Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake. "He felt that they would be a good instrumental tool for our teachers," the representative said. He steered Jones to the right departments to make his pitch.

Meanwhile, Bourdeaux and an intern talked to state department heads, who were willing to make sure teachers could get the old tools. "I think it's great," he said of Jones' work. "I commend him for that effort."

Christopher J. Kramer, spokesman for the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Man-age-ment, said about 4,000 radiation detectors were stockpiled by the state. About half of them could only detect gamma radiation, making them useless unless a nuclear bomb went off, which no longer seems so likely. The rest are valuable for indicating alpha radiation.

Now the instruments are surplus. Not only does nuclear war seem a remote threat, but the Geiger counter has improved over the years. "They work," Kramer said of the old counters. "But they're not real useful in the field."

Still, they would be great for science courses. But there was a roadblock: Technically, they were the property of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prodded by Jones and science teachers, state officials contacted FEMA and received permission to distribute the devices. Each teacher can receive up to 16.

"I think it's great," Kramer added. "I remember science classes in high school, and the ones that stand out in my memory were those that had visual references, hands-on demonstrations."

Jim Thompson, the university's chief radiation safety officer, estimated the cost of one of the Geiger counters at $500 to $600. A typical public science class would be hard-pressed to pay for a single instrument, let alone a full component of 16.

L. Clair Wilde, who teaches physical science at Eastmont Middle School, Sandy, stood in line to order 16 of the instruments for his students, "a classroom set-up, he called them. He already had one of the counters in hand.

"We're looking at a new unit we're doing on a state core curriculum," he said. The Geiger counters will be useful in a new rock and mineral unit.

Many natural substances are mildly radioactive, and "we have samples in our supply room of radioactivity," he said.



Devices available

As long as supplies last, surplus Geiger counters will be given free to public schools throughout Utah, says Christopher J. Kramer, public information specialist with the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management. Eventually, they may be given to other schools, too.

"We felt the Civil Defense kits would make an ideal augmentation to any science curricula that deals with radiation or possibly history classes that discuss the Cold War and Civil Defense program," said Lorayne Frank, agency director.

Teachers interested in obtaining the devices for class instruction should call Jim Thompson, radiation safety officer of the University of Utah and director of the U. Department of Radiological Health, at 581-6141.

"Any remaining units will be returned to the federal government for disposal," Kramer said.