Posts Tagged ‘nuclear’

Best Leave Some Things to the Professionals…

August 3, 2011 3 comments

A man in Sweden with a penchant for science and chemistry was arrested for attempting to split atoms in his basement.

Einstein would be so proud.

Apparently Richard Handl even kept a blog about his efforts to build a nuclear reactor in his home. Unfortunately, it is illegal for civilians to own this kind of radioactive material, which included uranium, americium and radium.

With good reason. This stuff can be quite a health hazard, which makes me wonder how he got the stuff in the first place…

In any case, Mr. Handl eventually thought it might be a good idea to ask the Sweden’s Radiation Authority if it was alright if he went ahead and kept some fissionable around his place and, y’know, fission it. (Yes, I used “fission” as a verb. Deal with it.)

Although it is a bit amusing, Mr. Handl faces up to 2 years in jail for his experiment.

Said Handl,

From now on, I will stick to the theory

Nuclear Fission Explained…With Skittles and Mouse Traps

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Pharyngula for posting this. Awesome!

Radiation From Japan Reaches Canada. RUN! PANIC! AAAAAH!

March 22, 2011 2 comments

File:Radiation symbol alternate.svgOne day, I think I’m going to open up a news website or newspaper and there is going to be a front page headline that reads “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!”.

This is getting ridiculous.

New outlets, including CBC, ran an article today and yesterday about increasing radiation levels detected in Canada and in Iceland. The cause of this radiation is attributed to the crisis with the nuclear power plant in Japan. So just how big of an increase in radiation was there in British Columbia?

Gary Holub says increased radiation levels were expected, and are less than the increase in radiation levels Canadians would see naturally when it rains.

Holub stressed that the increase poses no health risk to Canadians.

Seriously? Less of an increase than when it rains? Yet the CBC chose to run a headline which said: “Increased Radiation Detected by B.C. Monitors“.

Scientific American reported what the U.S. Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency had to say about the increase in radiation.

They said the radiation amounted to one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from natural sources such as rocks, bricks and the sun.

This increased level of radiation is not even newsworthy, let alone worthy of a scaaaaaaaary headline. Everyone on this side of the pacific ocean has nothing to worry about.

Actually, unless you are one of the heroic Japanese workers trying to restore power to the nuclear plant, you have very little to worry about.

Does nobody remember that there were victims of an earthquake AND tsunami in Japan recently? Are we only paying attention to the nuclear plant now because news outlets love the fear generated by the word “radiation”?

Donations to the Japanese relief effort can be made through The Canadian Red Cross

Other places to make donations can be found here.

Some Unexpected Stuff From Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

As Japanese officials are attempting to cool the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged after the devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami last week, some unexpected things have been happening as a result of the fear from this situation.

In an effort to help Japan conserve its electricity, game developers Konami and Square Enix will be suspending online access of their games to Japanese consumers for the time being.

Square Enix operates MMORPG games Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, and Konami operates Metal Gear Online.

How much electricity this will actually save is a difficult question to answer, but in times of crisis I suppose that every little bit helps.

In another development, Germany has temporarily shut down 7 of its nuclear power plants.

“We want to look at the risk and safety issues in the light of events in Japan,” the European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said.

While I can understand the desire for safety, particularly in light of the media-driven fear of radiation contaminating the rest of the world, I think this action is not only an over-reaction, but it adds fuel to the fire of radiation fears.

This also comes in the face of a massive anti-nuclear protest in Germany, which was already planned prior to the devastation in Japan,

Protesters in Stuttgart formed a human chain reaching 45km (27 miles) for the event, which had been planned before the current nuclear crisis in Japan because it was already a key election issue.

Switzerland has also suspended decisions on its current nuclear power structure to re-evaluate its country’s energy plans.

This is quite baffling to me because nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and safest forms of energy production. It is not exactly fair to use the Japan situation as a case against nuclear power, seeing as it was recently hit by and 9.0 magnitude earthquake AND a tsunami.

The Japanese crisis is indeed serious, but unique. It actually wasn’t the earthquake or the tsunami which directly caused the explosions. It was an unfortunate failure of the backup power systems to the power plant which prevented cooling water from circulating, which then caused overheating and eventually an explosion.

So I don’t believe that blaming the nuclear boogeyman is the right way to react to this scenario. Disasters do happen and there are unforeseeable consequences. And as I write this, the containment structures of the reactor cores have not yet been breached, and the Japanese are attempting to cool them by flooding the structures with seawater.

Much like the Three Mile Island scare, the potential for damage is there, but no large amounts of radiation have been released yet.

Unfortunately, solar and geothermal power are not quite ready to meet the world’s energy needs yet. Wind power is starting to be criticized because of its environmental impact. So for the time being, nuclear power remains our best bet for environmentally conscious energy production.

Woo Hoo! Isotopes Rule!

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Gotta love the Isotopes!

After a 15 month hiatus, the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada, is starting to once again produce isotopes used for medical  imaging.

The Chalk River reactor produced one third of medical isotopes used for imaging procedures all over the world. Namely, it produced Molybdenum-99, which is created as a fission product in the nuclear reaction.

The Molybdenum-99 isotope is unstable, and will decay into Technetium-99m. The Technetium can then be injected into a patient to perform medical scans.

Molybdenum-99 is kept in specialized containers while it decays into Technetium-99m

Now, I did my Masters thesis on Magnetic Resonance Imaging, so these medical procedures bring back some good memories for me. As such, I am going to start a series of posts describing the “Physics Of…” various medical techniques.

These will include things like X-Rays, PET scans, CAT scans, etc. So look forward to that, its a subject I hold very dear to my heart.

The (Simple) Physics of the ‘God Particle’

July 21, 2010 1 comment

The ‘God Particle’.

Pretty catchy name. Its been in the news quite a bit lately. But what is it exactly? And why would they call it the ‘God Particle’? Especially since science and religion get along about as well as Frank and Estelle Costanza!

Well in this blog post, I’m going to give you a basic and (hopefully!) entertaining explanation of what the God Particle is, and why we should care. So let’s start at the beginning.

The ‘God Particle’ is also (and more accurately) known as the Higgs Boson. Described in a single sentence, it is believed to be the particle that gives mass to all other particles in the Universe.

Ok, that SOUNDS important, but its still a bit hard to understand, so here’s a bit more thorough explanation.

Everything in the universe is made up of particles. And there are several different kinds of particles.

All the matter in the universe is made up of atoms. Atoms are made of a nucleus, which is found at the center of the atom and has neutrons and protons in it. Surrounding the nucleus are electrons, which are much smaller and fly around the nucleus in a circle, or an ‘orbit’.

Groups of atoms can get together and form molecules, and big groups can get together to form rocks, trees, and Maria Sharapova.

So thats 3 particles we have already described (protons, neutrons, and electrons). These 3 particles have mass; this essentially means that they weigh something.

But there are other types of particles out there too. For example, there is the photon.

Photons are are basically light. They are tiny packages of energy that make up a beam of light. They also make up radio waves, x-rays, and gamma rays (the stuff that gave the Fantastic Four their powers).

But photons are different from, say, protons, because they don’t have any mass. They carry light energy from the sun, for example, to the Earth. Or they can carry radio messages from the radio station to your house. So photons are like messengers; as such, they are sometimes called “messenger particles”.

A “messenger particle” is also called a boson. Bosons are really cool because they actually DO something. What do I mean by that?

Well, if you remember high school physics or chemistry class, you know there are 4 forces in nature. Gravity is one of them, and it is the most familiar too us. Its what keeps us firmly planted to the ground. Electromagnetism is what makes electricity, light beams, radio waves, and magnets work.

You Can Visualize a Magnetic Field with Iron filings and a Bar Magnet

The other two forces are a little less familar. They are called the Strong nuclear force, and the Weak nuclear force. These two are basically what holds the nucleus of the atom together, and make it behave the way it does.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well remember bosons are messenger particles. The photon carries the electromagnetic force “message”. The other forces in nature have bosons as well that carry their “messages”. Gravity has the “graviton” (which hasn’t been observed yet but we think its out there). The strong nuclear force has the “Gluon” (because it ‘glues’ the nucleus together). And the weak nuclear force has the “W” boson (it doesn”t get a cool name because its not cool).

Ok, now we get to the Higgs boson. So, since it is a boson, it must be the “messenger” of something right? So what is it the messenger of?

Well, remember I said that protons, neutrons and electrons have mass? But the photon does not have any mass. Why is that? What is it that makes one particle have mass, and the other not have mass? Even a couple of the bosons have mass! Thats just freakin’ weird.

So particle physicists (one of the named Peter Higgs, oddly enough) came up with a theory. They think there is some kind of a field in the universe called the “Higgs Field”. Its kind of like a gravity field, or a magnetic field. Just like a magnetic field will interact with some iron to pull it in one direction, the Higgs Field will also interact with particles. But instead of pulling at them, the Higgs Field gives these particles mass! It makes them heavy!

The theory also says there should be something called the Higgs boson: an actual particle that carries the Higgs field “message”. And thats what we are trying to find. The Higgs boson is the messenger particle of the Higgs Field, which is (theoretically) what gives particles their mass. If we do find it, then we know our theories about how the universe is made are on the right track. It would be HUGE breakthrough for physics!

One problem: the Higgs boson is supposed to be heavy! Well, for a particle its pretty heavy.

In fact, the only way to actually “make” one is by slamming together stuff like protons at close to the speed of light in what we call a “particle collider”. And we need to slam them together at a really BIG energy, so we need a BIG collider. Thats why we have the Large Hadron Collider.

The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland

Ok, so thats the explanation of what the Higgs boson is and why we should care. So why is it called the ‘God Particle’.

Well, a guy named Leon Lederman wrote a book called “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?which was actually about the Higgs boson. Calling it the “God Particle” was a kind of grandiose name because it suggested we knew what it was that gave particles mass, what made they heavy or “real”. Very “god-like” I suppose”.

The term “God Particle” also showed up in Dan Brown’s novel “Angels and Demons”. In the book some claimed that the discovery of the particle would prove the existence of God.

Finding the Higgs would be great, but would hardly prove the existence of God. The use of these terms is largely to increase media interest.

Phew, well there you have it. If you want to hear more about Physics news as it happens you can follow me on Twitter! Or you can follow the Large Hadron Collider on Twitter!

Big Physics News: The Proton is Small(er)!

July 10, 2010 2 comments

Its not very often that a fundamental measurement in physics gets changed. But that is exactly whats happened this week.

The radius of the proton, one of the fundamental building blocks of matter, has just been re-measured to a very high degree of accuracy. The surprising thing, though, is that this measurement says the proton is about 4% smaller than we previously thought.

To put a number on that, it makes the proton 0.00000000000003 millimeters smaller than we thought before. (For the statistically inclined, this is 5 standard deviations different than the current accepted CODTA value of the proton radius. Meaning, its pretty significant.)

So big deal, right?

Well it really IS a big deal! (Using the word ‘big’ to talk about nuclear physics seems strange to me, but whatever…)

“Something is missing, this is very clear,” said Carl Carlson, a theoretical physicist at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Yes, his name is ACTUALLY Carl Carlson. Awesome.

The entire Standard Model of physics, the primary theory which describes particle interactions, could be totally shaken up by this new finding. At the nuclear scale, the strength of the electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces vary extremely quickly. A 4% change in the radius of the proton can really throw the equations out of whack (excuse my technical terminology).

This is why science is great. Any day of the week the entire system can get shook up. One of the coolest things about science is that it is inherently self correcting. Different groups are always checking each others measurements and looking for mistakes. I love science!