Physics students attend radiation talk

By Anthony White, 6.1

On 27 March, a handful of 6.1 Physics students attended a discussion with the school’s Radiation Protection Adviser, Andy French, who was a member of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence specialising in cutting edge science and technology which aids the United Kingdom (you may recognise the name of the group from the Salisbury Novichok poisonings, as they played a crucial role in finding the origin of the nerve agent).

Andy specialises in the Radiological Protection sector, which works to minimise the damaging impacts of radiation on individuals in drastically varying circumstances. During the talk, he discussed the fascinating use cases for radiation, ranging from industrial radiography to radioactive waste disposal, emphasising to me how diverse a career one can have in this line of work.

Andy started his career in nuclear medicine, an intriguing field which improves upon simple x-rays by injecting a radioactive source into the patient. Depending on what source is chosen, it will bond to different bodily substances, gathering in certain organs or tissues, showing certain physiological issues. The technology in this field is improving constantly; we are now digitally fusing separate scan results to give us a more detailed picture, which could save lives in some situations.

Andy’s career has led him to work on military projects, an example of which are nuclear reactors on submarines, where there are significant challenges to overcome. Radiation protection is critical issue, as the amount of shielding which can be installed is limited due to size and weight restrictions (unless you want a permanently submerged submarine). In such cases, a careful compromise must be made. This is where Andy fits in, assuring the safety of individuals without compromising the functions of the submarine.

Making an error is not an option in this field of work, as even a small miscalculation could expose people to life threatening doses of radiation. Andy revealed his part in uncovering the trail of the Russian spies in the case of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, and how he traced the radioactive trail of the deadly Polonium 210 isotope that was used to poison his tea in the Ritz.

In conclusion, I thank Andy for his time as it was a great opportunity to get an insight into the fascinating world of radiation and the wide variety of careers which encompass the field.