Calling All Nuclear Scientists
EXPERTISE in nuclear science, particularly in nuclear chemistrythe
study of the inner workings of radioactive atomic nucleiis
at the heart of much of the research described in the article entitled
An Inside Attack on Cancer.
Nuclear chemistry has been an area of scientific expertise at Livermore
since the day the Laboratory was founded, when scientists needed
to understand the behavior of fission and fusion products to design
nuclear weapons. Today, weapons scientists put that understanding
to work to maintain the countrys nuclear stockpile, using
extremely large computers and laboratory experiments in the absence
of full-scale underground testing.
We have a continuing need for well-trained nuclear chemists for
stockpile stewardship, but universities are graduating very few
of them these days. Whats a national laboratory to do? One
solution is to train nuclear chemists ourselves, from a pool of
capable young scientists we attract to the Laboratory.
Fascinating, state-of-the-art research projects, a few of which
are described in this issues lead article, help draw prospective
future nuclear chemists. Livermore chemists and others are designing
molecules that can be tagged with a radioactive isotope to deliver
deadly radiation straight to cancer cells that have spread throughout
the body. A new detector under development uses the same radioisotope-tagged
molecules to reveal the location of cancer cells. Meanwhile, scientists
using a revolutionary type of mass spectrometry are witnessing,
for the first time, how isotopes interact with human cells. Finally,
Laboratory scientists are combining Livermores storehouse
of data on nuclear science and radiation transport with the power
of the supercomputer to create MINERVA, a tool for analyzing and
planning targeted molecular radiation treatment for cancer patients.
The development of MINERVA follows the successful commercialization
of PEREGRINE, a similar hardware and software tool for planning
radiation beam therapy.
Nuclear chemists are also contributing to programs in nonproliferation
and homeland security to meet Laboratory mission needs in a changing
world. Scientists are being called on to detect tiny amounts of
radiation and to manage the consequences of a radiological event.
The Laboratory has long been at the forefront in the development
of many kinds of chemical, biological, and radiological detectors,
both large and small, whether permanently installed or handheld.
Today, two new handheld devices make use of entirely new technologies
for detecting gamma radiation.
Laboratory scientists are
also seeking ways to measure the bodys response to a small
dose of radiation, as described in the article entitled Cells
Responding Uniquely to Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation. With a better
understanding of the effects of radiation on living tissue, medical
personnel will be able to measure the dose received and intervene
before individuals become sick and die. In effect, the human body
would become a walking, talking dosimeter. The same collection of
dosimetry data that has made PEREGRINE so successful in treating
cancer with radiation beams is being brought to bear on this low-dose
With so much demand for nuclear chemists and so few university programs
supplying them, Livermore must create its own experts. Helping to
detect and cure cancer may seem far removed from keeping the nations
nuclear stockpile safe and secure or responding to the demands of
homeland security. In fact, the cancer research not only addresses
an important national health issue but is also an effective tool
for training nuclear chemists to confront national and worldwide