[ RadSafe ] School Becquerel kits

Dan W McCarn hotgreenchile at gmail.com
Wed Apr 23 10:21:37 CDT 2008

Dear Min-Sook:

Thanks, in part, to those kits, I developed a strong interest in the
measurement of radiation and had built several cloud chambers by the time I
was 12 or 13 (62 & 63) which provided me many hours of fascinating
observation.  By 16, I was quite adapt at high-vacuum techniques and built a
Van de Graff type linear accelerator (I was only allowed aluminum targets)
as well as a couple of gas lasers by 16 or 17. A radiologist friend kept me
safe!  I even spent a summer in a cyclotron lab in 1966 at Howard College.
So I was quite adapt at technical glass blowing for building gas lasers.  My
mom would occasionally drive me across town to obtain liquid nitrogen (for
cold traps) at the steel mills in Birmingham since I was only allowed to use
silicone-oil type diffusion pumps (rather than mercury) and had to trap the
oil vapor or my lasers would sputter.

One thing led to another, and I spent 5 years exploring for uranium in the
western USA. By 1980, I was the youngest technical Officer at the IAEA in
the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle where I spent 8 years.  While in Vienna,
by pure chance, I once bumped into Burney Hannah (Physics professor at the
erstwhile Howard College - Samford University cyclotron lab and then working
in radiation safety for the State of Alabama) and invited him to visit the
Nuclear Safety Section at the IAEA with me the following day.  We had quite
a time reminiscing about that 15 year old kid who would reek havoc in his
lab 20 years earlier.

I've since worked 14 years overseas on various nuclear projects including
two years on a restoration project on Chernobyl, mine sites in Brazil,
China, Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, and nuclear waste sites in Mexico and
Slovakia as well as the USA.

But of all the things I've seen, I think it was my home-built cloud chambers
that captured my curiosity and imagination as a kid and formed a basis to
de-mythify "radiation".  I'd spend hours tinkering when them, playing with
magnetic fields, and comparing sources until the dry ice evaporated. That's
a great way to spend a summer's day as a kid in Alabama - reading every
issue of Scientific American since the 40s and building so many of C.L.
Strong's "The Amateur Scientist" contraptions, and avidly reading Martin
Gardner's "Mathematical Games".  The first laser light that I ever saw came
from a gas laser of my own making at age 16.

I feel sorry for kids now because we have institutionalized "fear of
radiation" in them from an early age, and they no longer seem to have a
wandering curiosity about a simple home-built cloud chamber let alone having
a couple of sources to play with.

Now we seem to be coming to the day that only the State is allowed to
measure radiation, and I run the risk having my scintillation counters &
gamma spectrometer taken from me if I operate them in New York.

Dan ii

Dan W McCarn, Geologist
Houston & Albuquerque

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl [mailto:radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl] On Behalf
Of Min Sook Kim
Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 6:54 AM
To: radsafe at radlab.nl; radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl
Subject: RE: [ RadSafe ] School Becquerel kits

Would anyone kindly explain why these chemicals were widely distributed to
middle schools and high schools: why those schools bought radioactive
chemicals anyhow (assume that's how they got those chemicals): why they
needed them before but don't need them any longer so they need to dispose
them now. Thanks.

Min-Sook Kim, Ph.D.
New York State Department of Health
E-Mail : msk02 at health.state.ny.us
TEL: (518) 402-7650

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