Cold Shot

September 12, 2006

If you want to ferret out uranium's hiding place in contaminated soil, freeze the dirt and zap it with a black light, an environmental scientist reported Tuesday at the American Chemical Society national meeting.

Scientists have long known that uranium salts under ultraviolet light will glow an eerie greenish-yellow in the dark. This phenomenon sent Henri Bequerel down the path that led to his discovery of radioactivity a century ago.

Others since noted a peculiar feature about the UV glow, or fluorescence spectra, of uranium salts: The resolution of the spectral fingerprint becomes sharper as the temperature falls.

Zheming Wang, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., has now dusted the frost off the files, applying a technique called cryogenic fluorescence spectroscopy to uranium in contaminated soil at a former nuclear fuel manufacturing site.

By cooling the sediments to minus 267 degrees Celsius, near the temperature of liquid helium, Wang and colleagues at the PNNL-based W.R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory hit a sample with UV laser on a contaminated sample to coax a uranium fluorescence intensity of more than five times that at room temperature.

What is more, other spectra that were absent at room temperature popped out when frozen, enabling Wang and colleagues to distinguish different forms of uranium from one another, including uranium-carbonate that moves readily underground and is a threat to water supplies.

Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Explore further: A protective shield against the heavy metal uranium

Related Stories

A protective shield against the heavy metal uranium

June 6, 2016

Microorganisms can better withstand the heavy metal uranium when glutathione is present, a molecule composed of three amino acids. Scientists from the German based Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the University ...

Studying slimy substances for a cleaner environment

March 20, 2012

Extracellular polymeric substances, or EPS, are the slimy material that bacteria excrete and surround themselves with as they form biofilms. EPS are mostly water (up to 95%), but the remaining ingredients include a complex ...

Recommended for you

First stars formed even later than previously thought

August 31, 2016

ESA's Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the Universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.