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Physical Chemistry

Good reasons to study technetium chemistry

Although centrally located in the periodic table, the element is often overlooked because of its radioactivity, yet has much to offer, researchers report

by Stephen K. Ritter
April 10, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 15

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Credit: Shutterstock

Technetium, the first radioelement.
Credit: Shutterstock

Technetium, the first radioelement.

A hole remained in the periodic table where element 43 should have been until 1937, when the invention of the cyclotron facilitated the discovery of technetium as the first and lightest artificially produced element. At the ACS meeting, Alfred P. Sattelberger of Argonne National Laboratory described a decade’s worth of new research on this “hot element.” Working with Kenneth R. Czerwinski, Frederic Poineau, and their students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Sattelberger has produced some 40 research papers on various aspects of technetium chemistry, including one recently that discussed how technetium’s nuclear makeup causes it to be radioactive (J. Chem. Educ. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00343). “There are three good reasons to study technetium,” Sattelberger said. First, researchers need to know how Tc compares with its next-door neighbors regarding its synthetic and structural chemistry. Second, the radioisotope 99mTc, with a half-life of six hours, is a workhorse in diagnostic medicine for imaging the heart and other organs. Sattelberger described how researchers study compounds made with 99Tc, which is the decay product of 99mTc and has a half-life of 212,000 years, before trying to make analogs with the short-lived 99mTc. Third, about 6% of the fission products of 235U nuclear fuel rods end up as 99Tc. Studying 99Tc compounds, Sattelberger said, is helping sort out the best options for long-term storage of spent radioactive fuel.

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