Tag Archives: Isotopes

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Carbon dating: A window to the world

As global warming causes the Earth’s permafrost to melt, scientists are uncovering some astonishing finds from deep beneath the ice.

Producing an accurate age of these treasures is a key step for archaeologists, made possible through carbon dating, a process of dating organic material as far back as 60,000 years using nuclear technology.

One well-known discovery was “Ötzi the Iceman,” who became a bona fide scientific celebrity after being found in 1991 by two German hikers 3,210 metres above sea level in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. The mummified corpse was partly entombed in the ice and thought at first to be a fallen mountaineer or Italian soldier from one of the world wars.

It wasn’t until scientists used carbon dating to determine Ötzi’s age that they discovered he had perished 5,300 years earlier during the late Neolithic period. In 2018, researchers published a detailed analysis of the tools discovered alongside Otzi’s body. These tools would have only given clues as to Ötzi’s age without the help of carbon dating.

The ability to carbon date organic objects was first discovered in 1946 by Willard Libby, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. He determined that carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon naturally found in the atmosphere, was absorbed by green plants and the animals that ate them.

Libby correctly theorized that if the amount of carbon-14 in an object could be detected, its age could be known by calculating the half-life (about 5,730 years) or rate of decay of the isotope, a process that begins when a living organism dies. Once this occurs, carbon-14 is no longer absorbed and the existing isotope count begins to steadily diminish. In other words, the older the specimen, the less carbon-14 will be present.

Until Libby’s discovery, the age of objects could only be determined in relation to the surrounding site by examining the geographic layers where an artifact was found.

New applications have developed for the technique as well. Carbon dating has been used to successfully confirm alleged art forgeries such as the painting by French cubist Fernand Léger and Robert Trotter’s forgery of Sarah Honn’s artwork.

Both were identified as fake after analyzing the radioactive forms of carbon-14 in the canvas and paint to establish whether there was a realistic correlation between their ages. Forgers are well known for using old canvas to appear authentic but have no choice but to use much newer paint.

Scientists also use carbon dating to study monarch butterfly migration routes from Canada to Mexico and back. The method solved a longstanding mystery about why some monarchs are found on the East Coast as well as the traditional interior.

Researchers studied 90 butterfly samples from 17 sites from Maine to Virginia along with 180 samples of milkweed, which monarch larvae feed on. This revealed where the monarchs were born and their age when they consumed the milkweed.

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99 uses for nuclear technology

  1. Producing clean energy
  2. Medical diagnostic procedures
  3. Radiation therapy
  4. Sterilizing medical equipment
  5. Killing bacteria, insects and parasites that cause food-borne diseases
  6. Delaying fruits and vegetables from ripening
  7. Inhibiting root vegetables from sprouting
  8. Halting meat and seafood from spoiling
  9. Producing new crop varieties
  10. Producing hardier crops
  11. The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT)
  12. Preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, malaria and Zika
  13. Decontaminating spices
  14. Improving livestock health
  15. Improving water and fertilizer management
  16. Determining nutrient absorption rates
  17. Verifying the integrity of aircraft components
  18. Improving the reliability of automotive engines
  19. Increasing the compatibility of pacemakers with the human body
  20. Developing better delivery systems for pharmaceuticals
  21. Checking welds of gas and oil pipelines
  22. Analyzing the walls of dug holes
  23. Identifying mineral deposits
  24. Searching for underground caves or formations
  25. Verifying the integrity of roads and bridges
  26. Optimizing road life, rutting resistance and overall durability
  27. Producing safe drinking water
  28. Powering space missions
  29. Powering navigation beacons and satellites
  30. Powering ships and submarines
  31. Producing hydrogen
  32. Smoke detectors
  33. Sterilizing cosmetics and hair products
  34. Sterilizing contact lens solution
  35. Producing non-stick frying pans
  36. Preventing static build-up in photocopiers
  37. Making watches and clocks that “glow in the dark”
  38. Emergency exit signs
  39. Compact fluorescent light bulbs
  40. Increasing computer disk memory
  41. Golf balls with longer drives
  42. Lantern mantles
  43. Combating malnutrition
  44. Combating childhood obesity
  45. Analyzing metals, alloys and electronic materials
  46. Identifying extremely small and diluted forensic materials
  47. Characterizing archaeological and historical materials
  48. Carbon dating the age of rocks and organic materials
  49. Studying air pollution and aerosols
  50. Determining the origin, age and distribution of groundwater
  51. Assessing the interconnections between groundwater and surface water
  52. Understanding aquifer recharge systems
  53. Evaluating leakages through dams and irrigation channels
  54. Lake and reservoir dynamics
  55. Calculating flow and sedimentation rates
  56. Analyzing river discharges
  57. Measuring soil moisture
  58. Measuring magnitudes and sources of soil erosion
  59. Detecting and analyzing environmental pollutants
  60. Studying the mixing and flow rates of industrial material
  61. Locating leaks
  62. Measuring industrial equipment wear rates
  63. Thickness gauges for sheet material
  64. Density gauges for control of liquids, powders and solids
  65. Gauges to determine flow, level and weight
  66. X-ray fluorescent analyzers
  67. Gas chromatographs
  68. Instrument calibrators
  69. Krypton leak detectors
  70. Well logging
  71. Locating materials embedded inside others
  72. Detecting corrosion and moisture damage
  73. Measuring blood or plasma volume
  74. Quantifying bone mass
  75. Detecting changes in bone metabolism
  76. Assessing the blood flow to the brain
  77. Looking for hydrocephalus
  78. Diagnosing and following the progression of tumors or infections
  79. Evaluating how well food travels from the stomach to the intestines
  80. Finding bleeding sites within the abdomen
  81. Identifying gall bladder obstructions
  82. Evaluating the effectiveness of a perito-venous shunt
  83. Finding benign liver tumors
  84. Diagnosing cirrhosis, hepatitis, tumors and other digestive tract problems
  85. Finding blood clots in the lungs
  86. Detecting Meckel’s Diverticulum
  87. Detecting adrenal tumors or pheochromocytoma
  88. Detecting coronary artery disease
  89. Locating neuroendocrine tumors
  90. Evaluating a possible parathyroid adenoma
  91. Diagnosing stomach ulcers
  92. Studying kidney function
  93. Studying gland function
  94. Showing the direction of lymphatic drainage from cancer sites
  95. Checking for tear duct blockages
  96. Diagnosing conditions affecting the testicles
  97. Studying thyroid function
  98. Detailing the heart’s ability to pump blood
  99. Diagnosing ischemic bowel disease
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Bruce Power to produce Lutetium-177 for cancer therapy

In late June, Bruce Power joined forces with Isotopen Technologien München (ITM) to examine the production of the radioisotope Lutetium-177 at the Bruce Power site.

Lu-177 is used in targeted radionuclide therapy to treat cancers like neuroendocrine tumours and prostate cancer.

The medical-grade radioisotope is used to destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected.

According to the company, the Bruce Power site has the ability to meet global supply needs through 2064, which is the lifespan of the station after refurbishment.

Bruce Power nuclear generating station

“By developing innovative ways to generate these radioisotopes, we help ensure that the medical community has access to a reliable source of medical radioisotopes for Targeted Radionuclide Therapy,” Bruce Power CEO Mike Rencheck said via a press release.

Bruce’s CANDU reactors already produce Cobalt-60, which is used for the sterilization of medical equipment and in a specialized form of cancer treatment called the Gamma Knife.

Bruce Power is part of the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC), which aims to develop collective solutions to maintain Canada’s leadership position in global isotope production. The CNA is also a member of the Council.

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Cancer and Nuclear Medicine

Cancer and Nuclear Medicine Infographic - English

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Le cancer et la médecine nucléaire

Cancer and Nuclear Medicine Infographic - French

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy Nuclear Medicine Nuclear Pride Nuclear Safety

Here’s to your Health, Canada!

Today is Canada Health Day as well as the first anniversary of the TalkNUclear.ca blog!

We launched one year ago today because we felt it fitting to mark the important contributions nuclear technology has made to health in Canada and around the world.

Our nuclear medicine ad in the Canadian Cancer Society’s feature in the Toronto Star, March 29.

It isn’t hard to understand the impact of medical isotopes. Nowhere is nuclear technology more widely accepted than in the medical field.  Canada supplies a significant amount of the world’s medical isotopes for nuclear medicine, which are used every day in thousands of procedures here at home and around the world.

Last month, in honour of Daffodil Month, the CNA teamed up with the Canadian Cancer Society to promote the excellent work they do to support Canadians living with cancer. Today, we’re happy to share the good news released in the Cancer Society report on cancer statistics in Canada.  The report found that the cancer death rate in Canada is going down. Nearly 100,000 lives have been saved over the last 20 years. This is attributed in part to education on preventative lifestyle measures like not smoking, exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding over-exposure to the sun. Improvements in cancer screening and treatments have made a difference as well, thanks to radiation treatments which have evolved and improved over the years:

“In the 1970s, computers were introduced into treatment planning. Radiology developed CAT, MRI and PET scans so that tumors could be targeted with precision. This was followed by intensity modulated and image guided radiation therapy (IMRT and IGRT) machinery which could use these new diagnostic advances to now deliver the dose with pin-point accuracy while avoiding normal tissues.”

–          Roger F. Robison, M.D., Vice-chair, American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) History Committee, Bloomington, Ind. Source

Radiologists can now deliver radiation treatment more precisely, targeting only cancer cells. More effective radiotherapy, means more Canadians surviving cancer.

Nuclear medicine is just one example of how nuclear technology has benefited the health and wellbeing of Canadians.  Beyond medical isotopes, there’s gamma processing to improve, for example, food safety, sterilizing cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, and there’s the health benefit of clean nuclear energy for the air we breathe.

Nuclear energy in Canada diverts a potential 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year that would result from the same amount of electricity generated by fossil-based sources. Greenhouse gasses contribute to climate change and smog – smog and air pollution have a huge impact on the health of Canadians and the global community.

According to Pollution Probe’s Smog Primer:

“Globally, it is estimated that by 2020 a total of 700,000 premature deaths from particulate* exposure could be prevented each year if emission reduction policies were implemented. The majority, as many as 563,000 prevented deaths, would be in developing countries, while the other 138,000 would be in developed nations, such as Canada.”

*’Particulate’ is a general name given to a tiny solid or liquid particle or piece of matter. It usually refers to particles in the air (airborne particulates).

So whether it’s beating cancer, keeping our food and products safe, and our air clean, on this Canada Health Day, we’re saying thank you to the Canadian nuclear community for the historical and ongoing contributions it’s made to our quality of life today.

Learn more about the daily benefits of nuclear technology at NUnuclear.ca and join the TalkNUclear conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

And in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the TalkNUclear.ca blog, here are the top posts of the year!

 

Happy Canada Health Day from your Canadian Nuclear Association!