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Tips for Handling Radioactive Materials in the Lab

Posted in: Bioscience Mastery
radioactive materials

Sometimes, you have to work with radioactive materials in the lab. If you happen to be one of those lucky individuals, it is important to take extra precautions in your work to ensure your safety, and good results!

Here are my tips to make sure you radiate confidence doing your experiments.

Know Your Element

It is important to be knowledgeable about the chemicals you are handling in the lab, and radioactive materials are certainly no exception! It is important that you know what you are handling so you can do it safely and know how to protect yourself and others. Handling radioactive chemicals poses an extra threat and you aren’t likely to get super powers from an extra close encounter. It is imperative that you know the isotope you are working with, the type of radiation it emits, how reactive it is, its half-life and how to store it properly. Also, you should familiarize yourself with how your lab properly handles and disposes radioactive materials.

Wear Proper Protective Gear

Most radioactive materials (if not all) will require you to wear special protective gear. This could include a lead shield, radiation reducing gloves, and radiation reducing glasses/goggles. Consult your radiation safety officer (or at least someone more experienced in handling the chemical) before you handle any radioactive materials.

Get Trained

Most institutes and labs require you to take special courses or training on radiation before you can actually handle it. Make sure you find out what you need to do to be certified to handle radioactive materials. Never try to work with these materials without proper training. Even if it’s just a “tiny bit”! There is no reason to expose yourself to radiation because you were ignorant or careless!

It also doesn’t hurt to watch someone else perform the experiment or procedure you will be doing with the radioactive materials, just to see how they handle them first hand.

Take Your Time

Now that you have taken the necessary steps to be trained in radiation safety and have geared up to protect yourself, remember not to rush. Remain focused and take your time when handling and pipetting radioactive reagents. Rushing only leads to mistakes. Take that extra second to double check your protocol or slow down your pipetting so as not to contaminate and spread radiation where it shouldn’t belong.

Concentrate on Clean Up

Every lab handling radiation should have a way to test and track radiation in the lab. Make sure not to skip clean up and inspection procedures like a standard wipe test to check for radiation contamination. Remember to check every piece of equipment you used, every place you worked, and most importantly, your own body.

Uh-oh, Contamination?

If you detect contamination during your inspections, contact your radiation safety officer right away – they will know how to handle the contamination based on the intensity and amount of contamination.

Do you have any tips for handling radioactive materials in the lab? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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Image Credit: thierry ehrmann

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