Historic beginnings, continuing innovation
Established in 2020, the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate is strengthening Oak Ridge National Laboratory's leadership in isotope production and enrichment technology innovation. ISED is guiding the Lab's pursuit of the fundamental science and technology that broadens the application of isotopes for energy, environmental, medical, and national security purposes. These efforts are made possible through the High Flux Isotope Reactor, the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center, ORNL's other nuclear facilities, and an assemblage of world-leading scientists and engineers.
Just in the last 10 years, ORNL has made substantial contributions to science. In 2015, the Lab began producing plutonium-238, reestablishing domestic production that had been dormant for nearly three decades and helping power NASA's Mars 2020 mission. We expanded the periodic table through the discovery of tennessine, element 117. We produced ruthenium-96—the first ruthenium enriched in the United States since 1983—to support studies on fundamental nuclear physics.
Each of these milestones demonstrates the Lab's leading-edge isotope production capabilities and sustains a legacy that began less than a year after World War II, when ORNL made its first official shipment of a radioisotope, a small quantity of carbon-14 to a St. Louis cancer hospital.
Today, ORNL produces, purifies, and ships more isotopes than any other place in the world—more than 300 isotopes used in medicine, research, industry and space exploration.
ISED will further the Lab's standing as the global leader in isotope research, development, and production, meeting the nation's emerging needs for stable and radioactive isotopes. The directorate's vision is to:
- Make vital science and technology advancements that expand the application and production of isotopes for scientific discovery, lifesaving medical treatments, industry use, and national security.
- Serve as the nation's steward of enrichment technology by achieving scientific discoveries and deploying advancements that enable important national missions, including centrifuge technology development, electromagnetic isotope separations technology advancement, and stable isotope production.
- Operate, maintain, and expand the unique facilities that comprise ORNL's isotopes and nuclear materials complex to ensure their continued impact for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.
New for ISED
Take a 3D tour of the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center, where plutonium-238 for NASA and other isotopes for medicine and science are processed every day.