Friday, September 13, 2013

Purposes Of Technetium

Technetium is the 43rd element of the periodic table.

Technetium, the element with atomic number 43, exists as several radioactive isotopes. According to Georgia State University, scientists create the most useful of these isotopes, technetium-99m, by bombarding molybdenum with neutrons. The main uses for the element take place in nuclear medicine: technetium-99m, with its relatively short half-life and good safety profile, makes an effective marker for various types of imaging scans. Technetium-99, the daughter isotope of technetium-99m, has a much longer half-life and mostly occurs as a waste product.


Emilio Segr and Carlo Perrier officially discovered technetium in 1937, though there were hints of its existence before that time. Glenn Seaborg and Emilio Segr later discovered the isotope most commonly used in nuclear medicine, technetium 99m. The element generally appears as a silvery, dense metal.

The isotope number refers to the total weight of the element's protons and neutrons. Its atomic number of 43 means each atom of technetium has 43 protons, so an atom of technetium-99 would have 56 neutrons. Technetium-99m simply has a higher energy than technetium-99 and undergoes an isomeric transition to become technetium-99.

Nuclear Medicine

Technetium-99m plays a versatile role in nuclear medicine and has many uses. According to Joyce Bryant at the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the isotope does not function as a curative treatment itself, but rather as an aid to imaging. Small amounts of technetium-99m, injected into the body, rapidly decay and produce gamma rays. A detector outside the body can then observe these decays and map areas of the body based on their locations. Areas of abnormally fast growth will uptake more technetium, so this imaging process can find cancerous growths.


Because the radioactive decay that occurs to turn technetium-99m into technetium-99 only emits gamma photons and not electrons as well, it has fewer harmful physical effects than radioactive isotopes that also emit electrons when they undergo decay. Electron emission and gamma photon emission can both have negative effects on health, but gamma rays provide useful information whereas electrons emitted in the body do not give data to the detector. This means that technetium-99m works more effectively for medical imaging than isotopes that undergo both kinds of decay at once.

Non-Medical Uses

While most of the uses of technetium occur in medicine, non-medical use occurs in a few fields: the predictable beta decay of technetium-99 makes it a useful calibration standard for detection equipment. Nuclear batteries also make use of this isotope, according to Some scientists use technetium-95m, which has a 61-day half-life, longer than the 99m isotope and shorter than the 99 isotope, as a tracer in environmental studies of the element. The element also serves as a catalyst in dehydration reactions.

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