Undeniably the least rewarding position I have ever held.
Pros: please see below
Cons: please see below
Aside from the inherent dangers of the job, which include working with concentrated acids and bases as well as exposure to high levels of alpha, beta and gamma radiation (both on a daily basis), the financial compensation was entirely disproportionate to the amount of work expected of entry level technicians. I received less than $20,000 annually with no benefits, and although my job responsibilities and the number of analyses I was able to perform increased at the very least on a quarterly basis, I did not receive a raise of any amount over the course of the first two years (despite my requests). ALS Laboratory Group is the third laboratory environment in which I have worked over my career, and is by a large margin the least adequate in regards to the areas of current technology (much of their instrumentation was outdated), routine laboratory maintenance/cleaning (potential sources of contamination were abundant in many laboratories) and employee training (technicians often learned to conduct new analyses on a "trial by fire" approach due to the perfunctory approach of the management).
This being said, there were a number of upsides to this position as well. My immediate co-workers were phenomenal, hard-working individuals. The hours at ALS were very flexible, allowing for a fantastic balance between work and extracurricular life. I also was very excited to learn a great deal about radiochemistry which I found quite mentally stimulating. I learned how to effectively isolate various actinide metals (Uranium, Plutonium, Americium, Neptunium, Thorium, etc) from different matrices – more... including waters, soils, filters and biological tissues. Due to the nature of the preparatory procedure for waters and soils, which took anywhere from three to five days to isolate the desired element, each workday was different. I was quite happy to avoid the monotony of daily repetition!
A typical preparatory procedure for Plutonium samples over the course of one week would look something like this:
1. Refer to the LIMS computer database to determine which samples have been received and are ready for a particular analysis.
2. Retrieve the samples, determine the correct amount of sample to aliquot by reviewing the pre-screen radiation data. Begin by boiling water samples to remove carbonates, or by digesting soil/tissues in a cocktail of concentrated nitric, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to obtain the desired element in the liquid phase.
3. Dry down the sample/acid cocktail mixture on a steam-bath overnight. Begin a new batch of samples while these are drying down.
4. The next morning, retrieve the samples that were dried the previous day and bring the dried residue up in nitric acid, boric acid and deionized water. Add concentrated ammonium hydroxide to form a precipitate containing the desired element.
5. Transfer samples to labelled centrifuge bottles and centrifuge them for 15 minutes. Decant the supernatant liquid and dissolve the remaining solid materials in diluted hydrochloric acid.
6. At this stage the samples are run through a column of specially formulated resin which retains the plutonium by means of anionic exchange. The target element is then stripped from the resin by the careful addition of a prepared solution of ammonium iodide and 9M hydrochloric acid.
7. Collected samples are dried down once again on a steam-bath overnight. The remaining dried residue is brought up the next day in 1 mL of hydrochloric acid.
8. Samples are micro-precipitated with the addition of titanium chloride, lanthanum carrier and hydrofluoric acid and collected on a filter and dried. Sample COC forms and any other remaining paperwork is completed and reviewed at this stage.
9. Samples collected on the filter then go to the instrument lab to be counted for Plutonium activity by means of alpha spectroscopy on the final day. – less