WSU Students Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Science in the Real-World Workplace

March 21, 2015

Dade Moeller participated in Washington State University Tri-Cities' first annual Science Industry Day with hands-on labs on Radiation Protection and Industrial Hygiene. Rob Winslow (L) works with WSU Tri-Cities students as they perform radiation surveys of Fiestaware plates.

It's one thing to listen to a science lecture in a university classroom, wondering what your future degree will mean in terms of a career . . . but it's another story to actually visit a local science-based company, meet the scientists, learn about their day-to-day jobs, and get hands-on experience with their high-tech tools.

It was for this reason that we were so excited to host a small -- but mighty -- group of science students from Washington State University Tri-Cities on March 16 as part of the university's first annual Science Industry Tour!

WSU Tri-Cities' Science Industry Tour is a one-day "behind the scenes" tour of local science-based businesses. It is an opportunity for students to be exposed to real workplace environments and get a glimpse of careers in their major. (And, of very important note is that these students gave up their Monday of Spring Break to participate in the tour! We certainly admire their dedication!!!)

To make sure each student had some "hands-on" opportunities, as well as the chance to ask questions of our technical experts, we set up two hands-on labs in our conference rooms. One was focused on Industrial Hygiene, while the other covered Radiation Protection.

The Industrial Hygiene Hands-On Lab

Our Industrial Hygiene section was taught by Tony Etherington, who is a practicing Senior Industrial Hygienist.

First, Tony demonstrated use of two “mini RAE” gas meters that are designed to measure Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in air. One measures in parts per million (ppm) and the other measures in parts per billion (ppb). It uses a photoionization detector (PID) to measure VOCs.

Tony also had a Multi-RAE five gas meter (a PID that can measure up to five kinds of gases) and five 3M Quest noise dosimeters to show.

Related article: How Loud Can a K-3rd Grade Lunchroom Get? Tony Etherington Volunteered to Find Out.

For the hands-on lab, designed by Tony, the students got to "play" with their food – hot salsa, mild salsa, oranges and lemon bars. The students monitored for VOCs while one student peeled an orange and another student opened the sealed salsa containers. The mini-RAEs detected the off-gasing of VOCs from the oranges and salsa. When students broke open the lemon bars, it also released VOCs. The ppm mini-RAE alarmed at 2 ppm (typical action level).

Orange vapors, lemon vapors, jalapenos, and garlic all give off VOCs.

Tony’s demonstration showed that we work around chemicals all the time, and it’s important to know whether what we are being exposed to is hazardous or not. These VOCs were not hazardous; but other chemicals can be hazardous that we might work around – Tony used hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ammonia (NH3) as examples.

The Radiation Protection Hands-On Lab

In the Radiation Protection lab, led by Sr. Health Physicists Mark Fishburn and Rob Winslow, we discussed sources of radiation and the types of instruments that are used to detect radiation. We then had the students use the instruments (Ludlum 2360) to perform surveys on different objects. The items surveyed included lantern mantels, plates, No Salt, smoke detector, and ore.

"The students were engaged and inquisitive," reported Mark. "They asked good questions about radioactivity and careers in the health physics profession."

Refreshments! Swag!

We then got back together for some refreshments and a short presentation from co-founder Steve Merwin about our company, including how we began operations in 1994 right here in Richland, supporting complex remediation issues at the Hanford Site. We also explained to the students the types of work we do at Dade Moeller -- both locally at Hanford, but also at other sites around the country and around the world!

The students were surprised to learn that there are Dade Moeller employees in Louisiana, supporting environmental sampling of the water, soil, plant life, and marine life as part of the damage assessment after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They also liked seeing a picture of a Dade Moeller staff member posing near a radiation monitoring station in Fukushima, Japan.

We then made ourselves available to answer the students' questions about our day-to-day jobs and our recommendations for how to best leverage their studies into a full-time career. As they left, each student got a Dade Moeller tote bag filled with some great Dade Moeller "swag" -- a phone charger for the car, a golf hat clip, a coffee mug, a pen, a coaster, a brochure, and Dr. Dade W. Moeller's Rules for Success postcard . . . to help make sure they remember us when applying for their future jobs!

View our photo album from the day on our Facebook page!

We look forward to supporting this awesome event again next year, and are happy to be a part of such a supportive scientific community in the Tri-Cities!

Special thanks to all our staff members who volunteered time out of their busy schedules to make Dade Moeller such an engaging and valuable stop on the students' Industry Tour: Roshelle Pavlin, Ellen Messer Wright, Tony Etherington, Mark Fishburn, Rob Winslow, Tracy Ikenberry, Steve Merwin, Amber Dosch, Larry Anderson, Paula Tumlinson, Rachel Weidner, Krista Alley.