International Atomic Energy Agency support young women to pursue a career in the nuclear field

The fellowship program, named after the renowned scientist and Nobel laureate Marie Skłodowska-Curie, offers scholarships for female scientists to engage in Masters studies at accredited Universities, and engage in internships facilitated by the IAEA.

Who are the fellows and what are they studying? 

The potential health effects of inhaling radioactive particles:

Anna Psyrillou is from Greece, and she studies on the University of Helsinki Master's Programme in Chemistry and Molecular Sciences. Anna has taken the programme’s radiochemistry study track, and her Masters’ thesis work examines the potential health effects of inhaling radioactive particles

My research focuses on the chemical behaviour of radioactive particles in the human lungs and their potential health effects when inhaled. Radioactive particles can be released into the environment via many pathways, for example, from nuclear accidents (e.g., Chernobyl, Fukushima-Daiichi), during warfare (e.g., depleted uranium munitions), and in industry (e.g., mining). However, we know little about the behaviour of radioactive particles in the human body or their potential health impacts. My research seeks to understand how uranium particles from the mining industry and particles derived from nuclear accidents behave chemically after inhalation. We simply don’t know if they dissolve quickly or remain as point sources of radioactivity in the lungs. In my work I use model lung systems to carefully study the chemical behaviour of radioactive particles with time. This should allow us to better estimate their residence time in lung tissues if inhaled. I also use model cell systems to better define the potential damage radioactive particles could do at the cellular level”. 

“The IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship has allowed me to focus on my studies and research in radiochemistry as a master's student, empowering me as a woman to pursue my professional goals and contribute to the scientific society passionately.”

Nuclear Power Plant Accident and it's impacts on humans

Patricia Valdés Portas comes from Spain and is also studying on the Master's Programme in Chemistry and Molecular Sciences Radiochemistry study track. Patricia’s studies focus on nuclear power plant accidents. 

“My MSc. research focuses on the potential impacts of inhaled radioactive micro-particles on humans. However, my research solely focusses on a new poorly soluble particle type known to have been emitted from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors during their melt-downs: cesium rich microparticles (CsMPs). CsMPs are small glass particles that formed when molten nuclear fuel contacted the concrete underlying the reactors. When the particles formed, they captured a lot of 134+137Cs in their glass matrix. Large amounts of these particles were released from the damaged reactors and transported across Japan, including over Tokyo. As the particles are very small (often < 1 µm), they may have penetrated deep into the lungs. Thereafter, they could have become embedded in the lung tissue, moved to other organs, or have been excreted. We don’t know and data is needed for risk assessment; however, it’s hard to work with actual CsMPs. My research thus focuses on creating ‘model’ CsMPs that can used in the laboratory to define where CsMPs go in the body after inhalation”.

“For me, being part of the MSCFP is not only an amazing opportunity to join the nuclear industry surrounded by inspiring, talented and supporting women, but to further introduce myself into relevant nuclear energy projects. The possibility of completing an internship within the IAEA is an incredible honor, as well as an important achievement in a person's scientific career that will be acknowledged worldwide.”

Anna and Patricia’s work also forms part of a Research Council of Finland and Japan Society for Promotion of Science Collaboration project on nuclear fallout from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. 

Both students are supervised by University of Helsinki Professors Gareth Law and Mirkka Sarparanta, Post-doctoral researchers Gianni Vettese and Surachet Imlimthan, PhD student Alvin Khng, and Professor Satoshi Utsunomiya from Kyushu University Japan. The team’s work will provide first of a kind data on the behaviour and health impacts of inhaled radioactive particles, over both short (days-weeks) and long periods (months to years) (i.e., detailing acute and chronic health impacts).

New methods for PET imaging with the University’s medical cyclotron 

Natalia Isabel Ambrosio Macías comes from Mexico and she studies on The Master’s Programme in Materials Research (MATRES).

In my Masters research I am developing methods on the University’s medical cyclotron to produce 52Mn for use in radiopharmaceutical chemistry research. I am developing different isotope production methods for 52Mn on the cyclotron and to achieve production in sufficient quantities to be able to carry out preclinical Positron Emission Tomography (PET) studies with the isotope. This tomographic imaging technique takes advantage of the decay characteristics of positron-emitting radionuclides to obtain three-dimensional images of the spatial distribution and concentration of radiolabeled tracers in the human body. 52Mn is a very promising tool for PET imaging. It has a half-life of ~5 days, meaning it can be used for interesting applications, such as image tracing of manganese‐dependent biological processes or for the development of bimodal imaging methods, combining PET with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), using natural Mn as an enhancing contrast agent. My project will see 52Mn produced for the first time at the University of Helsinki.” 

”The IAEA-MSCFP has opened a horizon of possibilities for further exploration and development in the area of science that I love: Medical Physics. I like to believe that completing my master’s degree at the University of Helsinki is the first step of a successful academic path”.

The work is supervised by University of Helsinki Associate Professor Mirkka Sarparanta and Senior Laboratory Engineer Dr Markus Nyman.

The IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme

The IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme seeks to inspire and support young women to pursue a career in the nuclear field. To that end, the fellowship programne provides scholarships to selected students studying towards a Master’s degree in nuclear related subjects as well as internship opportunities facilitated by IAEA. 

The students are awarded up to €20,000 for tuition costs and up to €20,000 for living costs for the Master’s programme.