Separation Anxiety No More: A Faster Technique to Purify Elements

June 5, 2019

Rebecca Abergel, Abel Ricano, and Gauthier Deblonde

(From left) Rebecca Abergel, Abel Ricano (B.S. Chem, 2018), and Gauthier Deblonde of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division have pioneered a faster method of purifying elements. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)

The actinides – those chemical elements on the bottom row of the periodic table – are used in applications ranging from medical treatments to space exploration to nuclear energy production. But purifying the target element so it can be used, by separating out contaminants and other elements, can be difficult and time-consuming.

Now researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the College of Chemistry have developed a new separation method that is vastly more efficient than conventional processes, opening the door to faster discovery of new elements, easier nuclear fuel reprocessing, and, most tantalizing, a better way to attain actinium-225, a promising therapeutic isotope for cancer treatment.

The research, “Ultra-Selective Ligand-Driven Separation of Strategic Actinides,” has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The authors are Gauthier Deblonde, Abel Ricano (B.S. Chem, 2018; second year graduate student in the Arnold Lab), and Rebecca Abergel of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division. “The proposed approach offers a paradigm change for the production of strategic elements,” the authors wrote.

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