Many problems cannot be solved alone – instead, cooperation is required. The University of Jyväskylä and particularly the Accelerator Laboratory of its Department of Physics have worked with the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK for many years. The aim of the close cooperation is to create a safer future to which both researchers and students contribute.

The Finnish Consortium for Radiation Safety Research (Cores) is a consortium established by STUK and nine Finnish universities that coordinates and promotes radiation safety research in Finland. It also contributes to the Government’s objective of increasing cooperation between universities and research institutions. The University of Jyväskylä is also a member of the consortium.

Even before the consortium was established, the Department of Physics collaborated with STUK in a variety of ways.

The Department of Physics’ Accelerator Laboratory has strong competence in both nuclear- and accelerator-based physics, and the department takes part in radiation safety research based on the needs of society and its improvement.

Paul Greenlees is the director of the Accelerator Laboratory.

“We provide expert services in radiation safety to companies and other parties whose operations require a safety licence for using radiation. At the same time, we train radiation safety experts with versatile skills. Many of our students are eventually employed by STUK, which is a great example of the importance of our basic research. Without high-quality education, our students would not be working for STUK,” says Paul Greenlees, head of the Accelerator Laboratory and vice chair of the Executive Board of Cores.

Cores was established in connection with the reform of research institutes that introduced a new method for targeting research funding. It also meant STUK had to reduce its own research activities.

By increasing their cooperation, STUK and universities can ensure that Finland has competent experts in the field in the future as well and that Finnish research maintains its reputation as high-quality research.

“Many institutions like STUK have an important role in ensuring the health and safety of everyone in Finland. I think long-term research funding should not be based on intense competition. We are glad that we can increase cooperation, but funding and resourcing for these projects have turned out to be challenging,” says Greenlees.

Practical research

The cooperation makes it possible to solve practical problems. To get more results, the collaboration has many participants, since each participant has their own strengths.

“STUK has competent specialists who can tell us what needs to be researched and what problems need to be solved. Our basic research is the key for producing solutions. We already have solutions to many problems that we can make use of and apply immediately,” says Greenlees.

Lately, the issue of improving Finland’s readiness has been discussed. For example, in the event of a nuclear disaster, local operators – like the Accelerator Laboratory – could have a larger role in analysing samples.

This would provide local companies information on the safety of food faster, which would mean that products would not have to be withdrawn from shops. The results could be available before the products are ready for transport. Currently, samples are sent to Helsinki for analysis, which is slow.

“This is a great example of the practical work that the Accelerator Laboratory can be used for. It is also an example of nationwide cooperation,” says Greenlees.

Final theses with working life

Collaboration related to final theses (master’s theses and doctoral dissertations) is also popular. For example, one master’s thesis published last year focused on developing a new kind of detector system for a monitoring network aimed at monitoring radioactivity in the air throughout Finland.

Currently, doctoral researcher Henri Jutila is developing a new kind of detector system aimed at the fast identification of radioactive substances and their quantities accidentally inhaled by a human.

“Inhaled radioactive substances are a significant health risk but identifying radioactive substances with current detection methods using low-energy gamma rays is challenging and time consuming. In an accident, time is of the essence to minimise serious harm. That’s why it is important that radioactive substances in the lungs can be quickly and reliably identified. This contributes to determining the scale of the accident and ensures that correct measures can be taken as quickly as possible,” says Jutila.

Equipment for monitoring

STUK has also donated equipment to the Accelerator Laboratory, such as the Particles And Non-Destructive Analysis (PANDA) device that can be used to identify a variety of radiation types simultaneously. Funding granted by STUK has enabled a postdoctoral researcher to be hired who works in Jyväskylä.

The project is called RADICAL and its primary aim is to improve the safety-related radiation detection capabilities of STUK’s laboratory by developing state-of-the-art techniques and methods usually used for experimental nuclear physics research.

“Our collaboration with the University of Jyväskylä is vital for the continuation of radiation safety research as well. The research helps ensure that STUK has up-to-date methods in use for the performance of its monitoring duties and for extraordinary situations challenging Finland’s readiness,” says Jani Turunen, Senior Inspector at STUK.

Student collaboration providing new inspiration

Cooperation with educational institutions is also one of the most effective ways for companies to get to know the future experts of their field and to have an impact on the education and career choices of young people. At the same time, companies can create a positive image of the industry and themselves as employers. Every year, STUK offers summer traineeships and internships for the students of the Department of Physics.

“When students come to work for STUK, they bring with them know-how on the latest methods and techniques used in the academic world. Many current STUK specialists started their career as summer trainees or interns. In addition, people who studied in Jyväskylä currently work at STUK in a variety of departments and duties,” says Turunen.

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