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What Is a Radiochemist?

A radiochemist may be tasked with controlling and containing nuclear waste at a nuclear power plant.
A sign indicating radioactivity.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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A radiochemist is a scientist who specializes in the study of radioactive elements such as uranium. Radiochemistry is a very large and diverse scientific discipline with a number of different opportunities available to scientists who choose this particular career path. Many people in this field hold advanced degrees such as doctorates and they typically work in laboratory settings where they can conduct controlled experiments. Labs also offer high levels of security for scientists working with more dangerous elements.

Radioactivity is a fascinating scientific phenomenon that has numerous potential applications for humans. A radiochemist may work in a field like pharmaceuticals, studying radioactive elements that can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Other applications can include archeology, where carbon dating relies on the properties of radioactivity, and in power generation. Nuclear power plants use radiochemists to improve their efficiency and safety and radiochemists are also involved in projects like controlling and containing nuclear waste and cleaning up inadvertently released nuclear materials.

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Research radiochemistry takes place in institutions like universities. Researchers explore topics like the role of radioactive materials in the environment, the aftermath of large-scale releases of radiation, and elements that can only be studied in the lab because they are too unstable to be observed in nature. This research is used for everything from developing environmental cleanup programs to improving the technology behind atomic clocks. Some researchers enjoy more theoretical work, which is designed to establish new ground in the field, while others may prefer applied science.

Part of studying radioactivity involves looking at its effect on other substances. A radiochemist can explore interactions between nuclear materials and other elements or chemical compounds. Radioactive isotopes are famous for their instability and learning more about how they behave in different settings in an important part of radiochemistry. A radiochemist can use this knowledge to make people safer around radioactive elements and to learn about new applications for radioactive elements.

Other careers that involve working with radioactive materials include radiology, nuclear medicine, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering. People in these fields find ways to apply radioactive materials to challenges faced by humans and they are also involved in theoretical research. Understanding radioactive elements is a key part of understanding the elements as a whole, as well as their interactions with each other. For a radiochemist, this can involve a lifetime worth of research and collaboration with scientists working on related projects all over the world.

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