Solving Environmental Mysteries with Atom Busters
It is clear that the environment has undergone many changes in the last several years. However, questions remain as to whether we can understand these changes and identify the factors that are influencing the environment and our health. The questions are all around us: Why are there no more fish in the lake? Is our climate changing more rapidly than in the past? What impact did contact with that chemical have on my health?
Measuring tiny numbers of radioactive atoms that occur in nature is one powerful way to solve these scientific questions. Radioactive atoms can do everything from calculating when the environment changed even if no one was there to watch, to tracing a molecule that is moving in the brain without the need for surgery.
Dr. Jack Cornett, Canada Research Chair in Radiochemistry and Environmental Health, is developing a new technique to measure radioactive atoms using the unique capabilities of an accelerator mass spectrometer (or atom buster). The technique allows extremely tiny amounts of radioactivity to be measured in very small samples. For example, samples of a few pollen grains, human hair or drops of blood can be used to unlock environmental and health mysteries.
The practical applications of accelerator mass spectrometry range throughout science—from deciphering where a drug goes inside the brain, to determining how much radiation exposure will occur around a nuclear waste management facility.
Cornett’s research on atom busters will lead to applications that are limited only by our imagination.