The Winnipeg River. Photo by Tjalle Vandergraaf.

Q&A #38 – Tjalle T. Vandergraaf (2 October 2023)

In Blogs, CSCA 50 Qs by Rebecca DielschneiderLeave a Comment

For the past 50 years, the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation has facilitated discussions about science and Christian faith in Canada. As part of our 50th-anniversary celebrations, we asked 50 CSCA members to comment on their personal connections to science, scripture, and Canadian scenery. We will share these contributions throughout 2023 in the hope that you will find them engaging and encouraging.

CSCA member of the week: Tjalle T. (“Chuck”) Vandergraaf, Retired Scientist at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

1. Why did you choose your scientific discipline?

Hard to say. I have always enjoyed chemistry as far back as I can remember. After six years as an optician in Vancouver, I decided to attend Calvin College (now Calvin University) to pursue a career in chemistry. Calvin was followed by Penn State University where I became intrigued by analytical radiochemistry and obtained my PhD on neutron activation analysis of silicates. An offer from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) led my American-born wife, Evelyn, and me to the newly opened Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment (WNRE) in Eastern Manitoba. We planned to stay in its then-five-year-old company town for no more than a few years and then look for teaching positions at a small college. However, our plans changed, and I spent 35 interesting years at WNRE, the first nine years supporting the development of the only operating organically cooled nuclear research reactor. When AECL embarked on a research program on deep geological disposal of used nuclear fuel. I was asked to join that team. My research focused on the interaction of dissolved radionuclides with geological materials and contaminant transport in fractured granitic rock in a surface laboratory and in the nearby Underground Research Laboratory at a depth of 200 metres. Towards the end of my career at AECL, I became involved in the US Yucca Mountain Project and performed similar studies in volcanic rock. However, with the impending closing of WNRE, I found a part-time position as an adjunct professor at Providence University College where, among other topics, I developed and taught courses in environmental and earth science. Through my involvement in an international conference, I was invited to collaborate, pro bono, with scientists in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan under the Global Partnership Program on environmental remediation projects.

2. What is one of your favourite Bible verses and why?

Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are humans that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

—Psalm 8

3. Which Canadian city or landscape do you love exploring and why?

Rocky Mountains anytime, but also eastern Ontario and Quebec in the fall. And the Winnipeg River and close to our home.

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