Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory

The Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory (ERL) is ISO 17025 accredited for the environmental sampling, sample preparation and laboratory analysis of radioactivity through gamma-ray spectrometry. (UKAS testing lab 2751)

The laboratory undertakes national and international research. We collaborate with and provide analytical services for academic, public and private sector organisations. We’re also involved in knowledge transfer and training.

White UKAS logo on a purple background. 2751 is underneath the logo.

UKAS Accreditation

Our accreditation is limited to those activities described on our UKAS schedule of accreditation.

In-situ and mobile gamma ray spectrometry

We specialise in in-situ gamma ray spectrometry and collaborate within the European Calibration and Coordination of Mobile and Airborne Gamma Spectrometry (ECCOMAGS) and European Radiation Dosimetry Group (EURADOS) programmes on environmental radioactivity measurement and dosimetry.

We’ve been developing methodologies for the accurate in-situ measurement of anthropogenic and natural radioactivity, and completed the first national survey of environmental radioactivity. (This is not included in the ISO 17025 accreditation).

Quality policy

We are committed to excellence in testing of environmental samples and associated research and consultancy.

We provide public and private sector customers with a high quality professional service tailored to meeting the needs of the client.  Continuous technique development within a research environment underpins the ethos of the laboratory to continually improve and provide the optimum precision and accuracy in gamma spectrometry analyses of environmental samples and environmental dosimetry in a quality assured manner.

Our quality management protocols comply with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 and policies and procedures are in place to maintain this standard.  Our activities comply with regulatory requirements and the University of Stirling’s health and safety policies.

The laboratory’s leading edge performance, demonstrated through international inter-laboratory comparisons, motivates us pursue and continually improve the effectiveness of our quality and management system.  All existing and new personnel working within the laboratory practice according to the quality management protocols and undertake ongoing one-to-one training and, where necessary, undertake formal training with ISO/IEC 17025 related courses.

All researchers and technicians working in the laboratory are able to propose new and improved methods of working practice.  Following review, recommended improvements are implemented systematically and audited through the laboratory management procedures.

Services and capabilities

The Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory is based within Biological and Environmental Sciences (B&ES) at the University of Stirling. The laboratory is dedicated to the measurement of radioactivity of environmental materials through laboratory and in-situ based gamma spectrometry and gamma dosimetry.

The laboratory has been in existence for over 10 years and has provided analytical services for a wide range of pure and applied research and consultancy projects, including academic, public and private sector clients. The ERL operate with 7 core staff trained in various aspects of the ISO17025:2005 Quality System. The group is headed by Professor Andrew Tyler as Technical Manager with over 24 years’ experience in environmental radioactivity and Dr David Copplestone as Quality Manager with over 21 years’ experience in radioecology and risk assessment.

ERL routinely collaborates, interacts and offers advice to other ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accredited laboratories. The consistently high performance of the analytical results within national and international laboratory inter-comparison exercises has been the primary motivation behind the pursuit and continual improvement in the quality system.


The ERL ISO17025 accredited status includes work offsite for the sampling of environmental materials and the use of GPS and Differential Kinematic GPS.


The ERL’s ISO 17025 accreditation covers the testing of environmental samples and includes moisture, mass, and density determination, sample homogenisation and sub sampling.  The laboratory measures the full range of natural and anthropogenic gamma emitting radionuclides from samples of a few single grams to hundreds of grams in mass.  The laboratory operates a range of Hyper Pure Germanium Detectors providing the sensitivities required for the range of applications undertaken by the laboratory in environmental and radioecological research and monitoring.

The detector types include low two 210Pb background LO-AX, GEM HPGe detector, three n-type 35% relative efficiency HPGe detectors and a n-type 70% relative efficiency  HPGe detector.  All detectors provide low limits of detection.

The laboratory also has total alpha/beta determination, liquid scintillation counting and alpha spectrometry included in its capabilities. (not included in the ISO 17025 accreditation).

In-situ Dosimetry

The ERL is also ISO 17025 accredited for in-situ gamma dosimetry in through direct measurement with radiation dosimetry meters and TLD.

In-situ gamma spectrometry (not included in the ISO 17025 accreditation)

The Laboratory also specialises in in-situ gamma spectrometry with HPGe and NaI(Tl) based technologies for real time in-situ measurement of environmental radioactivity and dosimetry.  The ERL participates in a number of international intercomparison exercises and these measurements are traceable internationally.

Mobile In-situ gamma spectrometry (not included in the ISO 17025 accreditation)

The ERL has designed, built and tested a mobile gamma spectrometry system for the detection of particles and baseline contamination mapping. The system has now been deployed at Dalgety Bay and Kinloss in both hand held mode (using a 76mm x 76 mm NaI(Tl) detector and 76mm x 76 mm LaBr(Ce) detector) and vehicular with two 4 litre NaI(Tl) detectors).

Examples of environmental radioactivity research

The laboratory specialises in characterising the spatial and temporal dynamics and impacts of radioactivity in the environment. Examples include:

  • Mapping intertidal radionuclide concentrations and estimating sediment and radionuclide fluxes over ebb and flood tide sequences through airborne remote sensing (NERC).
  • Bioavailability of 99Tc in soil plant-systems where contaminated seaweed is used as a soil conditioner.
  • Accurate in-situ gamma spectrometry determination of salt 137Cs inventories and activity depth distribution.
  • Detecting contamination induced tree stress within the Chernobyl exclusion zone as a bio-indicator of ecological stress.
  • Assessment of 131I in sewage pellets after the Fukushima accident.
  • Effectiveness of potassium application to land as a countermeasure against 137Cs contamination.
  • Radium contaminated land investigation - Systematic site investigation undertaken using, augering and in situ gamma spectrometry to locate and characterise 226Ra particles.

Applied research

  • Tracing and quantifying environmental processes such as soil erosion, sediment accretion through 137Cs and 210Pb dating has formed a significant part of laboratory activities. Examples include:
  • Novel measurement of soil movement in cultivated fields through in-situ gamma ray spectrometry.
  • Assessing the risk to archaeological crop marks from soil tillage.
  • Measuring sediment accretion rates in salt marsh environments through in-situ gamma ray spectrometry.
  • Dating lakes and coastal sediment accumulation rates through 210Pb and 137Cs profiling.
  • Dating peat profiles through 210Pb for landscape reconstruction.

Contact Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory

Professor David Copplestone

Quality and Technical Manager
The Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory
Biological and Environmental Sciences Faculty of Natural Sciences University of Stirling Stirling, FK9 4LA United Kingdom

+44 01786 467852