Eight Laboratories, Eight Stories of Success in Development

Published: 28 November 2012

The eight nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf today represent a dynamic hub, where scientists, technicians, fellows, interns and students from all over the world
 work and collaborate to apply the benefits of nucler technology in solving day-to-day social and economic problems. For over half a century, the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf have helped countries in using and adapting nuclear technologies to promote development. There are eight nuclear application laboratories housed in one premise within the Seibersdorft research facility. Together they support and implement programmes that leverage on the benefits of using isotopic and nuclear techniques to address key challenges in food and agriculture, water management, human health, and environmental monitoring. Rinderpest, the plague that affected thousands of cattle and endangered the livelihoods of farmers worldwide was declared eradicated in 2011. This achievement would not have been possible without the active assistance of the Animal Production and Health Laboratory in Seibersdorf. The scientists at this laboratory developed improved tools to monitor the efficiency of the vaccination efforts. The IAEA's Dosimetry Laboratory sends small devices known as thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) to participating clinics around the world. The devices then absorb the same amount of radiation that the patient receives. It is then sent back to the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf, where the scientists analyze the TLD to determine whether the right amount of radiation had been administered. This is vital for the correct treatment of thousands of cancer patients in over 1900 hospitals in 130 countries. Thanks to the work of the Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory, the inhabitants of the Lago de Tota area in Colombia are no longer threatened by the use of dangerous pesticides in vegetables. The laboratory supported a regional project to assess the impact of pesticide contamination and predicted which pesticides were most likely to contaminate the groundwater. As a result farmers have now stopped using those pesticides. The Sterile Insect Techniques (SIT) has become almost synonymous with the name of the Insect Pest Control Laboratory in Seibersdorf. The laboratory has successfully used SIT to eradicate the tsetse fly from Zanzibar. It did this by developing new methods for rearing, feeding, sterilizing and releasing the male flies. SIT is a type of 'birth control' in which radiation-sterilized males are released to mate with wild female insects of the pest population. These female insects will lay infertile eggs that cannot hatch to produce offspring. Over time, the insect pest population in the area decreases. The suppression of the pest population can be achieved, with much less or no pesticides. The secret behind world's greatest works of art can be revealed with the help of radiation. The Nuclear Spectometry and Applications Laboratory in Seibersdorf developed a portable device that uses electromagnetic radiation to analyse the isotopes in paintings and sculpture and determine their provenience and the techniques used. The device is known as a portable fluorescence spectrometer and it can also be used to effectively track environmental pollution. The Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory in Seibersdorf helped farmers in Vietnam find and cultivate salt-tolerant rice varieties. In the previous years, increased flooding led to a surge of salt along the coastal areas of the Mekong Delta, the primary rice growing area of the country. This led to a decrease in rice harvest. By irradiating the seeds of the Vietnamese rice, the scientists were able to identify rice varieties that have the exact characters needed. How much water does a plant need and how can we determine that amount? The IAEA Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory at Seibersdorf found the right tool for answering these questions: isotopes. So how does this technique work? Water that directly reaches a plant's roots through a technique called drip irrigation is an efficient way to save water and increase harvest at the same time. Lab scientists use a small instrument known as neutron probe to measure the volume of water in the soil, and find out when and where the plant needs water. This drip irrigation technique has been used effectively to boost agricultural productivity in water-deficient farms in Kenya. The Terrestrial Environment Laboratory in Seibersdorf sets the standard for the level of radioactivity that exists naturally in the world. This information allowed researchers to determine the effect of contamination or overexposure. One of the key services that the Laboratories provide to Member States is the training of scientists from developing countries. Every year, scientists from all over the world come to the laboratories to receive training in their field of expertise. Fellowships give scientists the opportunity to work together with IAEA scientists in the laboratories for a period of one to twelve months. Interregional training courses are held three to four times a year with 20-30 participants. The scientists attend intensive workshops and lectures lasting 5-8 weeks, and have the opportunity to bring back knowledge gained to their respective home countries.