Milking the Thorium Cow – Periodic Table of Videos

published on July 13, 2020

Today's video is about milking thethorium cow it's an amazing piece ofscience before we start there are two orthree things that I need to tell you soyou can understand quite how fantasticit is the first thing is that to treat

Cancer one can use highly radioactiveatoms which are taken to the tumor bycomplexing them that's binding them to aprotein that is attracted to the tumorrather than rest of the body the secondpoint is that when a radioactive element

Decays the products of the decay can befar more radioactive than the originalatom that decays you can have thoriumthat's not very radioactive decayinginto something that's much moreradioactive and the third point just

Before we start is that when you have areally radioactive atom even a nanogramthat is ten to the minus nine of a grama thousand millionth of a gram has morethan a hundred times as many atoms asthere are cells in your body so you need

Only a tiny amount of this highlyradioactive material to give a reallybig dose to the tumor so Brady was atthe Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennesseein the United States and he was given atour by Rosebowl who is an expert in the

Handling of these highly radioactiveelements we are at building 79 20 thisis the small hot cell room we call themChes this is where we do a lot of ourmedical isotope purification or thestarting part of it and we'll show you

The rest of it later some of thematerial we work with is very highlyradioactive and so we need shielding toprotect us from the dosefrom that material so we worked with itwith remote handles this is Jay who is

Doing the operation of the remoteoperators here we call them manipulatorsand he's going to show us thethorium-229 cow that were used to milkour medical isotopes from the guy whowas doing it looked like a magician it

Was amazing how he could manipulatethese robot arms do you think you'd begood at it I'm sure I'd be terribleIthorian was dissolved in nitric acidthat's how we store it we don't want totake it back to the solid it becomes a

Very insoluble oxide so we keep it inliquid solution the thorium Cao is asample of thorium-229 they thought itwas just waste but then they suddenlyrealized this fantastic application andit's called the cow because it keeps on

Giving more and more actinium just inthe same way that a cow keeps on givingmilk but the difference is you don'thave to feed the thorium but you do haveto feed a cowyeah this is old material but at the

Time that it was made we didn't have amedical isotope application so this wassomething that would have been thrownaway as waste material that we were ableto go and recover something very usefulout of it

The chemistry will puts the physicsbehind it is that thorium-229 gives outan alpha particle which has mass 4 andcontains 2 protons so you go to elementsto the left to radium and then theradium gives out a beta particle that's

An electron and it goes one element tothe right and you get two actinium 2 to5 the first stage of the milking is toremove the thorium from solution so thatyou can then process the actinium andthey do this with a resin a solid acid

Which is something like this materialhere this is also a solid acidessentially tiny pellets of polystyrenewhich have been treated so they haveacid groups on it see the columns he'spulled that rack out off you notice it

Was up against the wall to start withour thorium we run it through thatcolumn to separate it from the actiniumthat's an anion exchange column it has aglass frit on the top that holds theresin down for when we dump water on top

It doesn't disturb the resin bed andit's stored with water on it right nowuntil we go to do the next run the nextseparation run so there's nothingregular active environment you're not soyou

No not in that column in fact we keepour radioactive material off of thecolumn between runs because if theradiation will destroy the resin so nowthey have solution which containsactinium and some radium that he put it

Through series of other columns topurify it with resins and they adjustthe acidity of the solution so thatfirst of all the radium is removed andeventually all they're left with is pureactinium and today we're packaging it in

Small glass vials in order to ship it tothe customer so over on this next placehere this is where they're doing theevaporation of the material they areonly going to produce a sample of aboutan anagram

An anagram is such a small amount ofmaterial that you can't actually see itthe problem is that whoever is going tobuy it needs to know where it is so theyuse a bottle which has a v-shaped bottomconical bottom so as you concentrate the

Liquid it goes right down to the bottomwe try to evaporate it down in the Vpart the very bottom because thecustomers usually dissolve this up inabout 100 or 200 microliters of solutionwhich is about two to three drops they

Evaporate it and you get the bottle andright at the bottom is a tiny bit ofactinium so the question is how do theyknow if they've got a new there and theyhave an extraordinarily cunning piece ofkit which they call the gamma ray camera

Which measures some of the gamma raysthat are given out by the actinium whenit decaysthe gamma ray is like light beam orphoton of light both very shortwavelength so we'll go through a lot of

Materials including through theshielding at the front of the boxanother way you can see the element isthat as it decays it actually gives outa glow of blue light the glow is prettyweak so if you want to photograph it you

Have to switch out all the lights and doa long exposurethey're banging out the dry actinium twoto five so we took it to completedryness in those glass vials so she'llwork it all the way down to the bottom

Of the bagthen a heat seal across there theplastic is melted there to advanceI should say they sell the bottle for$1000 just wait a moment a thousanddollars for one thousandth of a

Microgram means that you would have topay a thousand million dollars for agram of this material of course youcouldn't make a gram of this materialand it would be so radioactive thatnobody could handle it but that just

Gives you an idea of the sort of priceof this material they use it to makemedications and so the minute this isactually they tell me is one of the lessexpensive ingredients necessarily in thefinal medicine once they get it made

We're very motivated by the fact theapplication everybody knows somebodywho's had cancer or some family memberthat has cancer and is dealing with thatso we're very excited to be able to workwith something that we know gets

Immediate application you know a lot ofthe research that we do down the road itmight develop into something but oursit goes out weekly for patients to betreated so it's very nice being thatclosely connected with the prior

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