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School pupils can help scientists with radiation project

5 June 2018

Is there radioactive caesium in Swedish mushrooms? And if so, how much? A national survey of radioactivity in mushrooms called Strålande jord (“Radioactive Earth”) is starting now, and Swedish pupils in years 6–8 are invited to participate.

“The idea is for the pupils to learn more about radiation as they get involved in and contribute to real research”, says Cecilia Gustavsson, senior lecturer at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Uppsala University and one of the researchers participating in Strålande jord.

Strålande jord was designed at Uppsala University in cooperation with the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). The project is aimed primarily at pupils in years 6-8 all over Sweden.

In the project, the pupils will pick and identify mushrooms, take soil samples and collect animal scat. The samples will then be sent to Uppsala University in the autumn, where the measurements of Caesium 137 will be done.

“Mushrooms are good environmental indicators that act as degraders in nature, and they also play a key role in the food chain, since animals like deer and wild boar like to eat them. So, it is interesting to also test scat and the soil in which the mushrooms live,” says Gustavsson.

Gustavsson hopes that the project will pique the pupils’ interest and increase their knowledge about scientific processes, as well as contribute to the research. “The pupil reports will be valuable and tremendously useful to our research as well as the rest of society,” she says.

The Strålande jord project came about due to the nuclear accident in Chernobyl in 1986. After the accident, Swedish authorities performed radioactivity measurements by aeroplane because all of Sweden had to be mapped. The measurements primarily focused on the presence of Caesium 137, which has a half-life of about 30 years.

“Now that it has been more than 30 years since the accident, we want to perform new measurements and find out whether the distribution is the same today as it was immediately after the accident. There are also later measurements to compare to, but most results date from before 2002, so we can see that there is a great need for and interest in new measurements,” says Gustavsson.

Sign-up for Strålande jord is open until 15 June, or as long as there are places left.

About the participating researchers

Cecilia Gustavsson is a senior lecturer in applied nuclear physics at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Uppsala University. Her research deals with nuclear reactions and how nuclear physics can be of use for applications. She is interested in teaching and education and holds the title of “excellent teacher” within the faculty. Also participating in the project are Mattias Lantz and Erik Andersson-Sundén from the same department, Marek Jacewicz and Volker Ziemann from the FREIA lab at Uppsala University, Abigail Barker at the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University and Karl Lundén from the Department of Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU.