Those enterprising, sports-minded people at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory are at it again. Late this summer they were stringing cable across a box canyon not with nuclear projectiles but with a bow and arrow (SI, Oct. 6). And this month they are investigating radioactive fallout with the help of deer antlers.
Antlers, says Dr. Harry Foreman of the Biomedical Research Group, because of their high calcium content are remarkable depositories of strontium 89 and 90. An average rack of antlers will build up half as much calcium in one season as a human skeleton will in a lifetime, and the calcium soaks up fallout like so much blotting paper. By grinding antlers and measuring the radioactive content, scientists can obtain a fairly accurate annual index of fallout wherever the deer, with or without the antelope, play. "I don't think we could have devised a handier or more convenient method," says Dr. Foreman, proudly.
Any old antlers lying about your house? Either trophy-room or basement-corner variety will do, says the doctor, so long as they were not found discarded in the forest and so long as you can remember when and where they were taken. Dr. Foreman asks that first you write him brief particulars. If your antlers will help the investigation, he will ask that you mail them accompanied by an identifying tag. (Fallout does not affect the flesh of the animal itself, nor are the antlers dangerous to handle.)
There has to be a catch to all this, of course, and there is. Dr. Foreman complains of a tight budget. Antlers, he says, should be sent postpaid.