This is the kind of chemistry experiment that saves millions of lives.
Back in 1976 Brookhaven scientists synthesized the first successful radiotracer - called 18FDG - for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. In this photo, chemist Joanna Fowler is working with an early synthesis apparatus that created the radiotracer, which is still the same compound used world-wide for brain research and cancer diagnosis.
This morning, the New York Section of the American Chemical Society is designating Brookhaven’s Chemistry Building as a Historical Chemical Landmark (a lot of capital letters, we know) for blazing that radiotracer trail.
Curious about how this breakthrough compound works its magic? When injected, 18FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose) serves as a stand-in for glucose, the body’s main source of energy. While traveling through sugar-hungry tissue, the short-lived radioactive isotope of fluorine - that’s the 18F - emits particles called positrons (antimatter electrons!), which interact with the body’s electrons and send off energetic back-to-back gamma rays. Those signals, picked up by a PET scanner, produce maps of metabolic activity in the brain and body.
The Clear Science Staff just can’t get over this glassware setup. (We like that kind of thing quite a bit ohhh boy.) Long time readers may remember our series on antimatter, in which we discussed how the PET scan works. We had no idea FDG was first made at Brookhaven National Lab!