The Rad Van

Dec. 11, 2008

I measure halocarbon chemicals that exist in very, very small concentrations in nature. Because they can be so hard to measure, I use a special technique involving radiolabeled carbon (14-C) to track their movement over time, because at low concentrations when we can’t measure the chemical itself, we can still track the radioactivity of 14-C. The type of radioactive carbon I use isn’t dangerous, and it isn’t very harmful to the environment, but it still has to be contained in an isolated area to guarantee that we don’t spill anything or contaminated any other areas of the ship (or of Antarctica!). For this reason, all of my experiments take place in the ‘rad van’, a giant metal storage container like a freight car on the ship. A few of the ship’s other labs are located in freight cars, but the rad van is separate from the others and is the only place where we can use radioactive chemicals. The rad van is treated like a clean room- the general idea is that, other than you and your inner layers of clothes, nothing that goes into the rad van is allowed to go back out because it is assumed to be ‘contaminated’. (It isn’t contaminated, but this is a precaution we take.) Because I can’t bring my shoes into the rad van, I have to wear special booties in there, but there isn’t any heat in the van yet so it’s FREEZING in there all the time and apparently stays at around -3 Celsius to +3 Celsius. The main problem is that since I have to wear socks and little white paper booties but am not allowed to wear shoes, my feet get extremely cold in little ‘rad socks’ (rad is our nickname for radioactive) on the metal floor. It’s also a little difficult logistically because I can’t bring in my notebook and take notes about my experiments, transferring chemicals is difficult because we can’t bring the containers in. There are only four of us on the ship that are even allowed in the rad van, but it’s such a small working space that more than one person in there at a time can get extremely difficult. I prefer the fieldwork on the ice to working inside my lab because at least out on the sea ice I’m allowed to wear shoes.

DSC_0005See me in the back? This photo was taken outside of the rad van because you can’t bring cameras (or non-essential equipment) inside.

DSC_0011Our entry protocol. Click for a clearer view.

dsc_3126One of the nice, heated labs inside the ship. Looks comfy.

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Posted on 2008, in 2008 (12/11) The Rad Van, Season 1: Life on an Antarctic Icebreaker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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