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Interdisciplinary Nuclear Science

Project Full Title:

Applications of Nuclear Physics to Enviromental Science, Electrochemistry, Biophysics, and Forensic Science.

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Project Description:

Hope College has its own 1.7 MV Pelletron tandem accelerator with a nuclear microprobe in the Hope Ion Beam Analysis Laboratory (HIBAL). We will be using this facility to continue our interdisciplinary research in a variety of areas. For example, some students will measure metal contaminants in lake sediments and soils, and develop techniques that will be particularly useful in environmental chemistry. Particle-Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE) spectrometry is used for rapid assays of dried lake sediment samples where one can determine total metal content for most metals of interest in roughly one third the time of traditional wet chemistry acid-digestion techniques. We will also be extending this method for measuring trace metals in the sediment to variety of new sediments and sediment types.

Students will also be involved in characterization of electropolymer film thicknesses. With the nuclear technique Rutherford Backscattering Spectroscopy (RBS), it is possible to quantify the thickness and composition of the thin layers making up electrochemical probe samples. This technique can even be applied when the sample consists of multiple thin layers.

Another HIBAL opportunity for research students in physics with a biochemistry background will be the continuation of a project to develop an ion beam analysis technique utilizing energy-loss measurements of light charged particles passing through a dried electrophoresis gel to obtain quantitative information about protein distribution in the gels. This energy-loss measurement could provide the first quantitative and reproducible measure of how much protein is in which gel electrophoresis location. Combined with PIXE spectrometry it might also lead to a reliable quantitative method to ascertain metal ion stoichiometry in proteins.

Lastly, we are developing the tools and techniques to examine forensic trace evidence. The focus of the research done to date has been to develop the methodology to reliably and non-destructively compare various glass samples and draw conclusions about their similar or different origins with PIXE techniques. We hope to extend to other materials such as paints, as well as developing a novel method of Ion Beam Induced Luminescence to help characterize the glass and common mineral components of trace evidence.

In all of these projects, students will be trained to use the accelerator facility, learn to prepare samples, acquire data and use various software techniques to analyze the data, and will present their results.

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