An InFORMal Gathering – Part 1

The last week of September was the occasion for our funder, the MEOPAR Network (stands for Marine Environmental Prediction and Response), to have its annual scientific meeting. The two day meeting was in Ottawa, ON this year and brought together ~350 scientists from universities spanning from Victoria to St Johns. It was an opportunity for everyone to give a brief (5-10 min) update on their research, to learn about new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, and what the future may bring for growing the network of scientists over the next 5 years.

Dr. Cullen delivering the summary of current InFORM results to other scientists funded by MEOPAR.
Dr. Cullen delivering the summary of current InFORM results to other scientists funded by MEOPAR.

While I was already in town, I took the opportunity to see the facilities of some of our collaborators at the University of Ottawa and Health Canada. This was the first time that I had ever met some of my fellow investigators face to face and it was a great chance to build on the relationship that has only been fostered by countless emails and conference calls to date.

Here are a few photos from my visit to the University of Ottawa and the Cornett Lab at the Advanced Research Building. This is the final destination for all of our citizen science collected coastal samples.

If you are interested in how the gamma spectrometer works, check out our methods. If you would like to learn more about the accelerator mass spectrometer and its uses, check out this video produced about this specific detector.

In addition to using the gamma spectrometer, Cole MacDonald is also working to develop a method for determining the cesium-135 in a sample. To the best of our knowledge, no one has measured the amount of 135Cs in a seawater sample due to the high levels of barium that are present and the extremely long (2 million years) half-life. Barium isotopes are the stable end product for many of the cesium decay series, but since they are so similar in mass to cesium isotopes, they obscure and dominate the cesium signal when using mass spectrometry. The long half-life  means that normal gamma spectroscopy doesn’t work since it would likely take many thousands of years for a sample in the detector before a reliable signal was determined. If Cole can work out a reliable method for using a mass spectrometer for determining the 135Cs content in each sample, then it could dramatically reduce the analytical costs for each sample and provide results for a months worth of samples in a few days instead of a few weeks. This is just one of the many projects besides InFORM that the Cornett lab is currently working on.



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