Molybdenum – the building block of nuclear medicine.

Today is the launch of our Crystals in the City website, which accompanies an exhibition of giant crystal structures that will be all over Australia. We’ve got a line up of rather large structures that includes perovskite, diamond and nuriminidaise. There’s post of each of the structures to be features, apart from today’s Molybdenum, let’s sort that out!

What does it look like?

Image generated by the VESTA (Visualisation for Electronic and STructural analysis) software http://jp-minerals.org/vesta/en/

Image generated by the VESTA (Visualisation for Electronic and STructural analysis) software http://jp-minerals.org/vesta/en/

What is it

So have you ever heard of molybdenum before?  Yes, it’s probably a strange choice of material to feature in an exhibition, but hopefully you’ll see soon find out how important it is. Molybdenum is an element, like carbon for instance, and it’s one of the simplest materials that makes up our universe.  It is the 42nd element of the periodic table.

Though it looks like many other metals, the molybdenum atoms themselves are pretty special.  Unlike many other elements, molybdenum can remain stable as a number of different isotopes; they are the same material (i.e. still molybdenum) just with a different number of neutrons.  One isotope that is particularly important is molybdenum 99, which is produced when molybdenum 98 (which is the most stable form of this element) is fed with neutrons within small nuclear reactors.

Molybdenum is incredibly important as it is the only way to produce Technetium 99, which is the most commonly used medical radioisotope across the world.  Technetium 99 it is used to identify and diagnose many things that can go wrong with our bodies. For instance, when it is paired with a certain drug, it can be used to understand how blood is flowing through our brains.  It is estimated that over 20 million procedures use Technetium 99 every year, and every one of these started with molybdenum 99.

Where did the structure come from?

Molybdenum is #9011605 in the Crystallography Open Database. Where can I see this structure? The giant model of this structure can be found at the Australian Museum over National Science week, and will be moving to Cronulla Library after.

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