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One can measure past radiation dosages, even when no specialized monitoring equipment was put in place at the time, by taking advantage of the way nuclear particles affect some ordinary materials. For example, when a speeding alpha particle strikes glass or plastic, it inflicts damage along a slender track, and the path of the particle can be made visible by soaking the item under study in a caustic solution. Applying this technique to eyeglass lenses, the author and his colleagues are pioneering a method to gauge people’s long-term radon exposure. Other methods of retrospective radiation monitoring, using everything from windowpanes to compact disks, are equally possible.
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