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Reaping FRIB's Isotopes to Sow New Science

Professor Greg Severin
Professor Greg Severin

The Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Nuclear Physics is supporting Spartan scientists with a new grant worth $13 million over the next four years to build up FRIB’s isotope harvesting capabilities. The DOE Isotope Program supports the grant.

Greg Severin, Assistant Professor in the MSU Department of Chemistry and FRIB faculty member, is lead investigator.

"This grant is about broadening the scientific impact of FRIB," said Prof. Severin. "While physicists at FRIB are making groundbreaking fundamental discoveries, our team will be supporting exciting applied-science research. One of the most direct examples of that is in medicine, in what’s known as positron emission tomography scans, or PET scans," Dr. Severin added.

Reaping FRIB's Isotopes to Sow New Science
This infographic shows FRIB' primary beam hitting a target to create rare isotopes by ";atom smashing.” A selection of these rare isotopes continue along the FRIB beamline for experiments that support FRIB" science mission. Not all of the primary beam can be used to make the rare isotopes for nuclear science experiments. The unreacted portion of the primary beam is stopped in water where a bounty of additional rare isotopes is created. For use in other applications, these isotopes can be extracted using technology like what households use to remove hard minerals from water. Credit: Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

Before a PET scan, a doctor injects a patient with a tracer that contains isotopes that emit a small amount of radiation. A scanner then detects the radiation emitted by the tracer, which helps doctors diagnose and treat disease, such as cancer tumors, inside patients.

During routine operation for its nuclear physics mission — without interfering with FRIB’s primary users — extra, unused isotopes can be “harvested” using additional tools and infrastructure. These by-product isotopes are what Prof. Severin utilizes in his research.

While pushing the boundaries of nuclear physics, harvesting “bonus” isotopes, like those used in PET scans, could thus help researchers develop novel cancer treatments and diagnostics.

Read more on the College of Natural Science website.