Two leading laboratories in South Oxfordshire have teamed up to gain a unique understanding of the role of the minute particles involved in river pollution.
Water quality scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford have become increasingly aware of the significance of these tiny particles (typically a ten-thousandth of a millimetre in size) in the transport of pollutants, and the impacts they may have on the ecology and health of streams and rivers. But they needed a new technique to fully understand the structure, stability and interactions of these particles in aquatic environments.
Scientists at the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chilton use ISIS, the world's most powerful pulsed neutron source, to look at the atomic structure of a wide range of materials such as polymers, ceramics and alloys. For the first time, the same techniques have been applied to samples from freshwater environments such as river water and river bed sediments which are a mixture of mineral and organic particles.
Dr Steve King of ISIS explained why neutrons are the perfect tool, "Neutrons can see through muddy samples and work out where the particles are and how they interact with each other. We can look at more samples in a shorter time than conventional microscopic techniques so we can generate more data for our CEH colleagues to analyse. And unlike X-ray techniques, neutrons can tell the difference between the mineral and organic particles."
Dr Helen Jarvie of CEH is pleased with the results so far, "We have already learnt a lot about how different mineral and organic particles behave in a river environment. New European environmental legislation requires better understanding of the ecological impacts of pollutants in rivers and this research is vital for protecting and improving water quality. We have already submitted an application to carry out further research at ISIS."
Notes to Editors
The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) is another of the eight UK research councils and is one of Europe's largest multidisciplinary research organisations supporting scientists and engineers across the world. It operates world-class large scale research facilities, provides strategic advice to the government on their development and manages international research projects in support of a broad cross-section of the UK research community.
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) is the UK's leading research organisation for land and freshwater science. Its 500 scientists carry out research to improve our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth's support systems. It is one of the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) research centres. CEH has eight research sites within England, Scotland and Wales and an administrative headquarters based at Swindon. http://www.ceh.ac.uk/
ISIS is the world's leading pulsed neutron and muon source. It is a major facility at the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and has been operating for over twenty years. The source was approved in 1977 and the first neutrons were produced in late 1984. ISIS was officially inaugurated in October 1985.
NERC is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It uses a budget of about £350 m a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. It is addressing some of the key questions facing mankind such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.
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