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Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Mitch Allmond works with the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Decay Station initiator, which combined diverse detectors for FRIB’s first experiment. Credit: Robert Grzywacz/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Two decades in the making, a new flagship facility for nuclear physics opened on May 2, and scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have a hand in 10 of its first 34 experiments.

Ashleigh Kimberlin and Mikayla Molnar achieve success with a gas-trapping apparatus for Ac-225 production. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

In experiment after experiment, the synthetic radioisotope actinium-225 has shown promise for targeting and attacking certain types of cancer cells.

Former ORNL Director Thom Mason presents Tom Kollie with a National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation on behalf of James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, and the national intelligence community in June 2017. Credit: Jason Richards/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A 25-year career with the U.S. Navy, commanding combat missions overseas, brought Tom Kollie back to where he came from — ready to serve his country in a new way.


Summer Widner, Stephanie Timbs, James Gaugler and James Avenell of ORNL are part of a team that processes thorium-228, a byproduct of actinium-227. As new uses for thorium are realized, particularly in medicine, the lab expects the demand for the radioisotope to grow.

As a medical isotope, thorium-228 has a lot of potential — and Oak Ridge National Laboratory produces a lot.

Initially, Kevin Gaddis’s adapted HPIC will be used only for the fourth of six separations in  actinium-225 processing, but he hopes it will later be used for other separations — and other isotopes. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher has invented a version of an isotope-separating device that can withstand extreme environments, including radiation and chemical solvents.

Balendra Sutharshan

In the mid-1980s, Balendra Sutharshan moved to Canada from the island nation of Sri Lanka. That move set Sutharshan on a path that had him heading continent-spanning collaborations and holding leadership posts at multiple Department of Energy national labs.

Brenda Smith, shown here working with a gas viscometer in her research lab, is one of several people concurrently researching the thermophysical properties of feedstock gas. Their research will support computational researchers who are designing processes to separate isotopes. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, US Dept. of Energy

For years Brenda Smith found fulfillment working with nuclear batteries, a topic she’s been researching as a chemist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Targeted alpha therapy can deliver radiation to specific cells, with minimal effect on surrounding, healthy cells. Credit: Michelle Lehman and Jaimee Janiga/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A rare isotope in high demand for treating cancer is now more available to pharmaceutical companies developing and testing new drugs.

Technicians John Dyer and T. Dyer use a manipulator arm in a shielded cave in ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center to separate concentrated Pm-147 from byproducts generated through the production of Pu-238.

A new method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory proves one effort’s trash is another’s valuable isotope. One of the byproducts of the lab’s national plutonium-238 production program is promethium-147, a rare isotope used in nuclear batteries and to measure the thickness of materials.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory entrance sign

Balendra Sutharshan, deputy associate laboratory director for operational systems at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has joined ORNL as associate laboratory director for the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate.