Dr Nikolaus Hermanspahn is one of the senior scientists in ESR’s Radiation Science Group, and a team member at the ESR-managed National Centre for Radiation Science (NCRS).
Much of the group’s work is centered around assisting ministries, other crown research institutes, regional government and the export and import industry to meet their needs on measurement of low levels of radioactivity.
"We are involved in a number of international projects with overseas universities and the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Nikolaus says.
“We also provide technical support to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation as one of 16 labs that have been assigned to help verify and monitor nuclear testing.”
Through the NCRS, Nikolaus and his team members also test food imports and exports to make sure they are within the limits of acceptable radioactivity levels.
Beyond testing food as it arrives in New Zealand, ESR also takes a proactive research role. For example a recent ESR-led student project measured radiation concentrations in fish and sea cucumbers in Wallis and Futuna, Tonga and New Caledonia to see if radiation levels were higher following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor Accident.
Another area of work is ensuring New Zealand's drinking water is safe. The NCRS team works closely with the water group at ESR to test drinking water to check for compliance with the New Zealand drinking water standard.
"We are also working with the water group on research that uses groundwater radon as an indicator of aquifer recharge rates. The research has important implications for looking at the impacts of land use on groundwater quality," Nikolaus says.
"The techniques developed during this project are being further refined so they can be used in commercial applications."
Nikolaus earned his PhD in physics in Germany and completed his postdoctoral work at Harvard University where he studied the fine structure in helium.