Radiation is notoriously harmful to the human body. And yet in certain applications it can be a lifesaver. When do the benefits of radiation outweigh the harm? Paul Schaffer, associate laboratory director of the life sciences division of Canada’s particle physics laboratory TRIUMF (TRI-University Meson Facility), which uses particle accelerators to create radioactive materials for medicine, explains in a public lecture that will be broadcast live here on this webpage Wednesday, December 2 at 7 P.M. Eastern time.

“We’re responsible for producing radio tracers: radioactive drugs that we use to study the imitation, onset and progression of disease in people,” Schaffer says in a teaser video previewing his lecture. By ingesting or being injected with radioactive particles, patients can give off signals that trace the actions of insidious diseases such as cancer. In the field of nuclear medicine, particle physicists and medical doctors are working together to create better ways to produce and observe these particles inside the body. “As a scientist I get to create, I get to invent,” Schaffer says. “We explore new drugs, new biochemical pathways, new applications for isotopes.”

The lecture, “Get a Half-life: Isotopes as the Unlikely Hero of Modern Medicine,” is part of a lecture series at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario. Online viewers can pose questions by tweeting to @Perimeter and using the #piLIVE hashtag. Sign up here for an e-mail reminder to watch the Webcast.

You can view videos of some past Perimeter physics lectures below:

The Promise of Optical Atomic Clocks: Watch Live Wednesday [Video]
The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything [Video]
The Man Who Explained the Atom [Video]
The Future of Cosmology [Video]
The Upgraded LHC and the Search for the Higgs Boson [Video]
String Theory LEGOs for Black Holes [Video]