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Spotlight: Jolanda Cameron, Environmental Scientist at Scotoil Services (A Tradebe Company)

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

My favourite fruit is the ambarella which is grown in many tropical countries including Vietnam. I’ve spent many summers in Vietnam (I’m half Vietnamese) so every summer I would binge eat ambarella (trái cóc in Vietnamese). In Vietnam, people will sprinkle salt and chilli flakes on the fruit to eat – it’s absolutely delicious!

Tell us about your career journey so far

At school I really enjoyed the sciences, especially the problem-solving aspect and how open the opportunities were for the future, for example, you could potentially go on to become a scientist researching into cures for diseases. For my Highers in 5th Year, I studied Biology, Chemistry, English, Geography, and Maths. Then in 6th Year, I studied 3 Advanced Highers: Biology, Chemistry, and Geography.

I then went to the University of Strathclyde to study Applied Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and this was a 5-year integrated Master’s degree.

While I was at university, I had a summer internship which was sponsored by BP. For this, I was researching energy storage systems, specifically the zinc-bromide battery and the problems associated with it.

After graduating, I knew I really wanted to work within the energy or utilities industry or work in a job that had an environmental aspect to it. I joined Scotoil Services in 2017 and I work in a lab, dealing with radioactive waste from the oil & gas industry. I’ve also recently started working in our on-site wastewater treatment plant which uses my chemical engineering skills.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

Chemistry and biology were my favourites. Both subjects were exciting yet also challenging (in a good way!) at the same time and I really enjoyed carrying out experiments. I liked how varied the topics were too – you could learn about the greenhouse gas effect in one lesson and in another you would be learning about typical compounds found in fragrances. My school also had such enthusiastic teachers so they helped to make the subjects enjoyable too!

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Primarily maths and chemistry in terms of school subjects. However, a university degree or further education qualification from college in chemistry/chemical engineering is often required for this type of role.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I really enjoy that my job is playing a part in making sure that hazardous radioactive waste is treated and disposed of correctly in a way that minimises any safety and environmental impacts.

What is a normal day in your role like?

In the oil & gas industry, radioactive waste (known as NORM waste) builds up on a lot of equipment used offshore. It’s important to properly clean the equipment so that expensive equipment can be reused.

One of my colleagues will pass on a sample to me that they’ve taken from equipment they believe is contaminated with NORM waste.

After logging in this sample in the lab, I’ll prepare it so that it can be analysed in a machine called a gamma spectrometer which will tell me exactly how radioactive the sample is and will tell me the specific radioactive isotopes present in the sample. If the sample is radioactive, I then need to further analyse the sample to see if it is also emitting alpha particles which are also radioactive.

In between analysing the radioactivity of the sample, I’ll be sending out results to clients and colleagues on other samples. I’ll also prepare samples for other analysis methods that we have in the lab. These other methods include determining the oil content, finding out the concentration of heavy metals (e.g. mercury, arsenic, etc.), and determining the flashpoint temperature (a flammability test).

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

This video illustrates the basics of radioactivity:

After watching the video, can you list the differences between the different types of radiation (gamma, beta and alpha)?

The video says that gamma radiation is the most fatal but can you give a reason why alpha radiation might be just as dangerous? (Hint: which radiation would be more harmful if you accidentally breathed it in or ate something containing it?)


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