PULLMAN, Wash. — The Palouse might not have a lot in common with the rolling hills of
Today there are seven graduate students in radiochemistry at
Nationally, enrollment in radiochemistry programs — the chemistry of radioactive elements — peaked about 30 years ago, when about 35 chemistry doctorates were awarded annually to graduates who had specialized in radiochemistry. Since then, however, enrollment has declined dramatically and most programs have folded altogether. Last year fewer than 10 graduate degrees were conferred on radiochemists nationwide.
But WSU is either bucking the trend or ahead of the curve. When Sue Clark, chair of the department of chemistry, joined the WSU faculty as an environmental chemist in 1996, only one of her colleagues, Roy Filby, was a radiochemist, and he has since retired. Now there are two more — professor Ken Nash and assistant professor Paul Benny.
Working with the department of chemistry, the
Nash spent 25 years as a top research scientist at Argonne National Laboratories (Chicago) and the U.S. Geological Survey (
Over the past 30 years, work with radioactive elements has led to great advances in medical diagnosis, cancer treatment, food production, pest eradication, materials development and energy production, even while support for radiochemistry programs has dwindled. But, without young scientists to take over when senior scientists retire, that progress might stop or move overseas.
And, said Nash, the
“The energy supply problem in this country hasn’t been solved,” he said. “It’s been postponed.” Along with making nuclear power plants more efficient, safe and clean, Nash said, radiochemistry research is crucial to the creation of a hydrogen economy. Nash recently received two new grants for $600,000 from DOE for his work.
The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is trying to boost radiochemistry programs in the
Another federal agency concerned about radiochemistry education is the National Institutes of Health. Approximately one-third of all medical diagnostic procedures conducted in the
Benny, a radiochemist from the