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July / August 2003

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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Home is where the radon is

Michael Tripp
Photo by Michael York

Linda Gabrielson

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Physics student Michael Tripp has completed one of the first detailed studies of how radon gas can vary from room to room and month to month in a house ó his parent's home in southern Maine, to be exact.

For an honors project, the University of Maine student worked with Tom Hess, UMaine professor of physics and one of the nation's leading authorities on radon. The undergraduate's research could be useful in reducing human exposure to radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is a leading cause of lung cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Radon, a common component of granite, can seep into homes through basements and from well water use in households. Homes in southern Maine tend to have high radon levels.

"(Using) a couple of radon detectors, I found out that my parents' home had very high radon levels in the air. The EPA action level is four picocuries per liter; I found an average level in my parents' house of about 11 picocuries per liter," says Tripp, who graduated from the university in May, headed for a career in the nuclear industry.

Every month, Tripp measured radon levels in the air and water. He took simultaneous air readings in the basement and on the first and second floors. Tripp equipped an upstairs bathroom with three detectors to track radon as it entered the room during showers, and he took monthly samples of tap water. He brought all his recorded data and water samples to the nuclear laboratory at UMaine for analysis.

Tripp found that levels of water-borne radon in the family's well water doubled from NovemberóJanuary. He also recorded unexpected differences in floor-to-ceiling levels of radon during showers in the bathroom. But surprisingly, radon levels from the basement to the second floor of the house appeared to be relatively even.

Tripp suspects that air flow and ventilation may help to explain some of his results.

Championing education

When Linda Gabrielson started graduate studies at the University of Maine, there's no way she could have predicted how her education and professional pursuits would coincide this year.

Gabrielson is finishing doctoral coursework in higher educational leadership after three years of classes taught by some of the state's foremost experts, including former University of Maine System Chancellor Terrence MacTaggart.

Gabrielson has been in the classroom for a decade, teaching at Southern Maine Technical College in South Portland. One of her responsibilities last semester was establishing the college's new Center on Teaching Excellence. In addition, Gabrielson is participating in the transformation of Maine's technical college system to a statewide community college network as of July 1.

"It's an exciting time," says Gabrielson. "I look forward to continuing to work with students so we can open doors and change their lives. This transition (from a technical to community college system) is part of a bigger picture of making higher education the norm in Maine for those who have not thought about college or need the opportunities to participate."

Open access to higher education for all who want to pursue college has long been important to Gabrielson. Academic rigor, coupled with attention to the learning needs of students entering community college, ensures that graduates attain the level of training, education and knowledge required to pursue the next chapter in their lives. "Academic integrity is alive and well, and I hope to continue to champion it, whether I contribute as an administrator, teacher or educational leader in a higher education organization."

Linda Gabrielson, a registered dietician, discovered her love of teaching when she taught nutrition and diet therapy. Through the years, her commitment to quality education, including service learning, has only gotten stronger.


UMaine Today Magazine
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