As the University of Wollongong researchers flew over Antarctica, its immense beauty and hazards were clear to see.
But the researchers from UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP) were more concerned with cosmic radiation coming from above.
CMRP has been developing a range of radiation sensors, called microdosimeters, that measure radiation dosage or exposure.
These sensors can be used across a spectrum of settings, from detecting cosmic radiation in space or on aircraft to protect flight crews and equipment.
Dr Marco Petasecca, senior lecturer at UOW’s School of Physics said most of the cosmic radiation is absorbed from the Earth’s atmosphere or deflected by Earth’s magnetic field.
But he said exposure was considerably higher at the poles, where the planet’s magnetic field is weakest.
While people on the ground are safe from the rays, at higher altitudes, where commercial jets fly, people are subject to higher levels.
“As our altitude increases and the further we travel from the equator, cosmic radiation increases. We are particularly interested in the region between Australia and Antarctica where there is ozone depletion,” Dr Petasecca said.
“Radiation poses a big risk to human space travel and exploration, whether it is going to the Moon, Mars or beyond. This is why it is very interesting to monitor how much cosmic radiation is too much.”
The recent research trip also doubled as an educational opportunity to encourage future scientists.
That’s why Southern Highlands Christian High School year 11 student Lachlan Souter was invited to attend.
The 17-year-old said participating in the research was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.
“This is my second airplane trip so far in my life,” he said. “And the first one was when I was three-years-old! So, it’s a real thrill to be flying to Antarctica.”
Lachlan, who took notes and recorded flight GPS locations to be used with the collection of cosmic ray data, is a keen science student with future plans of a career in astrophysics.
“It is great to work and learn alongside someone like Marco. Seeing Antarctica was fantastic but being part of collecting data and affiliated with the process was really nice,” he said.
Dr Petasecca said encouraging more students like Lachlan was vital to halt the decline in STEM subjects.
“Science education is crucial for shaping the present and future of modern societies. Young people especially should be engaged to pursue careers in science,” he said.