During the 1950s and early 1960s the United States was testing atomic weapons above
ground. These tests were conducted on some Pacific Islands as well a few in the
western deserts. The explosions would generate radioactive material that would be
carried by the prevailing winds from the west to the eastern parts of the United
States. The primary material was the radioisotope Strontium-90. Strontium-90 would
find it's way into water and diary products and finally into bones and teeth. Strontium-90
is a cancer producing material. This caused a great concern by health professionals
and the public.
In St. Louis Missouri the Baby Tooth Survey was initiated by the Greater St. Louis
Citizens' Committee for Nuclear Information in conjunction with Saint Louis University
and the Washington University School of Dental Medicine. Baby teeth were collected
to determine the amount of Strontuim-90 in the teeth. The findings helped convince
U.S. President John F. Kennedy to sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the
United Kingdom and Soviet Union, which ended the above-ground nuclear weapons testing.
Subsequent atomic weapons testing were perform underground.
As a result of this great public interest in the effects of radiation fallout, the
Central Michigan University Physics Department attempted to also do research on the
radiation fallout. My physics professor, Kenneth Wright, selected me to assist him
with the research.
Central's physics department stepped further into the field of nuclear research with
the purchase of a high-volume air sampler.
The sampler, a "souped-up" highly refined version of a vacuum cleaner, will be used
by Kenneth Wright, assistant professor of physics, and students under his direction
to gather radioactive particles from the air.
Until the device was purchased about a month ago, Wright had attempted to procure
free-floating atomic particles by placing containers on the ground in various positions
of the campus and surrounding areas.
The yield was too low to be registered on the department's radiation counters. With
the new sampler the obtained yield is higher and more accurate.
At present, Wright is standardizing methods of procedure for the sampler's use by
the University. Wright runs the machine 24 hours a week while standardizing his methods,
He plans to operate it continuously if any nuclear devices are exploded in the atmosphere.
Filters, positioned at the machine's suction device, are placed in analyzers to measure
the amount of beta (medium penetration) and gamma (high energy) rays emitted by gathered
Wright explained that although the use of the sampler and analyzers will give an
accurate atmospheric radiation count, the University does not plan to make it "official."
Results obtained, however, will be offered to state and federal agencies on request.
The University's sampling device is unique in the Central Michigan area; others are
located in Lansing and the state's northern sections.
After procedures have been standardized, results from sampling areas should give
an accurate view of what's happening to Michigan's air in the atomic age.
Purchase of Air Sampler Helps CMU Study Radiation From the Central Michigan University
Life on March 9, 1962.
on display at Central open houseFrom the Frankenmuth News on September 24, 2008.
By Susan McInerny