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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Spring 98 > Article

Behind the Scenes

Long before their findings ever make headlines, researchers rely on dozens of UGA laboratories and other support services to advance their work. Below we spotlight a research center that provides support to other programs as a large part of its mission.

Researchers at the Center for Applied Isotope Studies use a towed instrument sled, pictured here aboard the Environmental Protection Agency’s flagship research vessel "Peter W. Anderson" in the Gulf of Mexico, to survey official dump sites for materials dredged from harbors and channels of major costal cities.

Research at UGA’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies goes straight to the heart of matter, the nucleus of the atom.

From atomic nuclei CAIS researchers collect a wealth of useful data on what’s in the food we eat and the beverages we drink, which pollutants contaminate marine environments, and where radioactivity levels are highest in the air and water.

"Our expertise is to take today’s technology to solve today’s problems," said CAIS director John Noakes. "We do it mostly through nuclear methods."

All chemical elements – hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen to name a few – come in more than one atomic weight. These different forms of the same element are called isotopes. Some elements, including carbon, potassium and cesium, come in radioactive forms.

Using an array of sophisticated instruments, CAIS scientists measure the ratios of the various isotopes to conduct their own research as well as support a variety of university, industry and government projects.

For example, with support from the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association, one CAIS research group authenticates flavors, ingredients and manufacturing methods of foods and beverages. Another CAIS group monitors tritium and other radioactive elements in the environment around nuclear power plants.

CAIS researchers also identify and map the distribution of metallic and organic pollutants in sea-floor sediments to establish baseline environmental monitoring levels for the federal government. Other CAIS scientists are developing genetically engineered fish species for environmental monitoring without the use of isotopes. The goal is to be able to measure genetic changes in the fish upon exposure to certain pollutants.

For more information, e-mail John Noakes at jenoakes@uga.cc.uga.edu or access www.uga.edu/~cais/


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Checking out the sea floor