American Chemical Society podcast: Detecting radioactive material in nuclear waste water

December 17, 2013

The latest episode in the American Chemical Society's (ACS') award-winning Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions podcast series features a new design for a highly sensitive device that can detect the radioactive materials uranium and plutonium in waste water.

Based on a report by Jorge M. Seminario, Ph.D., and Narendra Kumar, Ph.D., in ACS' The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, the new podcast is available without charge at iTunes and from http://www.acs.org/globalchallenges.

Seminario notes that it is highly likely that radioactive uranium and plutonium have leaked into the soil and groundwater near nuclear facilities. This contamination poses a serious threat to the environment and human health. Although detecting these materials even at low levels is important for determining whether a leak is occurring, traditional methods of doing so are not effective.

But recently, scientists have discovered that radioactive materials in water can clump onto flakes of graphene oxide (GO). Based on theoretical models and calculations, researchers predicted that GO could sense and identify extremely low levels -- single molecules -- of various substances. Seminario's team set out to see how best to adapt this for uranium and plutonium sensing.

Using the latest advances in supercomputing, they modeled several different variations of GO to figure out which one would be the most sensitive and selective in detecting uranium and plutonium in nuclear waste water. They concluded that attaching something called a carbonyl functional group to GO would serve as an effective nanosensor for these radioactive materials.
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Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions is a series of podcasts describing some of the 21st century's most daunting problems, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. Global Challenges is the centerpiece in an alliance on sustainability between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Global Challenges is a sweeping panorama of global challenges that includes dilemmas such as providing a hungry and thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water, developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel society, preserving the environment and ensuring a sustainable future for our children and improving human health.

For more entertaining, informative science videos and podcasts from the ACS Office of Public Affairs, view Prized Science, Spellbound, Science Elements and Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.

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