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Radioanalytical chemistry is the evaluation of samples to check for radionuclides, atoms which emit radiation because of their instability. Chemists can use a variety of tools to examine sample material to learn more about what it contains and classify it appropriately. Research in this field is used in a range of applications, from environmental science to anthropology; radionuclides can be used to date samples, enhance medical imaging studies, or connect evidence in a legal case, among many other things.
Early science in this field was pioneered by researcher Marie Curie, who performed groundbreaking work with nuclear materials. In the 20th century, researchers learned much more about how these materials worked so they could handle them safely and accurately detect them in samples. Chemists can use tools like spectroscopy, scintillation counters, and solid state detectors to identify radionuclides in a sample, determine which are present, and measure their concentration. This information can have both pure and applied scientific applications.
Practitioners of radioanalytical chemistry start with an unknown sample which may need to be treated to separate and purify the contents. This requires care, as the chemist does not want to disrupt the chemical composition of the sample by accident. Once the sample is ready, it can be evaluated in a lab to identify specific radionuclides. Chemists may be involved in research to learn more about radionuclides and how they work, testing for industry, or quality control for manufacturers who work with these materials.
In the sciences, radioanalytical chemistry can help with activities like identifying and controlling pollution, studying phenomena in physics, and dating geological deposits. It also has applications in forensic science as well as anthropology and archaeology, where dating techniques rely on the use of radioanalytical chemistry. Medicine also benefits from this field, as some medical treatments and diagnostic tools involve radionuclides. All of these fields need controlled lab environments to analyze samples and produce material, ensuring high quality and consistency.
Working around some radionuclides can be dangerous, a concern in radioanalytical chemistry. Technicians need to follow specific procedures to protect themselves and their facilities from radiation. Protocols may indicate how and where components should be handled, what to do in the event of contamination, and what kinds of materials a given facility can safely accommodate. Safety officers may be responsible for instructing new employees and making sure policies are followed at all times to reduce the risk of injuries.