Using radioisotopes in research


Radioisotopes are used in a variety of applications in medical, industrial and scientific fields. On this page you will find a list of radioisotopes, their half-life and their uses.


Medical radioisotopes


Chromium-5127.7 daysUsed to label red blood cells and quantify gastro-intestinal protein loss.
Iodine-1318.02 daysUsed to diagnose and treat various diseases associated with the human thyroid.
Iridium-19273.83 daysSupplied in wire form for use as an internal radiotherapy source for certain cancers, including those of the head and breast.
Molybdenum-9966 hoursUsed as the ‘parent’ in a generator to produce technetium-99m, the most widely used radioisotope in nuclear medicine.
Phosphorus-3214.28 daysUsed in the treatment of excess red blood cells.
Samarium-153 46.7 hoursUsed to reduce the pain associated with bony metastases of primary tumours.
Technetium-99m 6.01 hoursUsed to image the brain, thyroid, lungs, liver, spleen, kidney, gall bladder, skeleton, blood pool, bone marrow, heart blood pool, salivary and lacrimal glands, and to detect infection.
Yttrium-9064 hoursUsed for liver cancer therapy.


Cyclotron-produced medical radioisotopes

Copper-64 12.7 hours Used to study genetic  disease affecting copper metabolism; in Positron Emission Tomography; and also has potential therapeutic uses.
Gallium-6778.25 hoursUsed in imaging to detect tumours and infections.
Iodine-12313.2 hours Used in imaging to monitor thyroid function and detect adrenal dysfunction.
Thallium-201      72.9 hours  Used in imaging to detect the location of damaged heart muscle.
Carbon-11  20.3 minutesThese are used in Positron Emission Tomography to study brain physiology and pathology; for detecting the location of epileptic foci; and in dementia, and psychiatry and neuropharmacology studies. They are also used to detect heart problems and diagnose certain types of cancer.
Nitrogen-1310 minutes 
Oxygen-15122 minutes 
Fluorine-181.83 hours 


Naturally occurring radioisotopes used in industry and science

Carbon-14 5 715 years  Used to measure the age of organic material that is up to 50 000 years old.
Chlorine-36301 000 yearsUsed to measure sources of chloride and the age of water that is up to 2 million years old
Lead-210 22.6 yearsUsed to date layers of sand and soil laid down up to 80 years ago.
Hydrogen-3 (tritium)12.32 yearsUsed to measure the age of ‘young’ groundwater (up to 30 years old).


 Artificially produced radioisotopes used in industry and science


Americium-241 •232.7 yearsUsed in neutron gauging and smoke detectors.
Cobalt-60 • 5.27 years   Used in gamma radiography, gauging, and commercial medical equipment sterilisation.
Caesium-137  • 30.07 yearsUsed in radiotracing to identify sources of soil erosion and depositing; also for thickness gauging.
Gold-198 •  2.7 days 

Used to trace factory waste causing ocean pollution, and to trace sand movement in river beds and on ocean floors.


Gold-198                     Technetium-99m     

2.7 days

6.01 days

Used to study sewage and liquid waste movements. Nb technetium-99m is generated from its reactor-produced 'parent', molybdenum-99.
Iridium-192 73.8 daysUsed in gamma radiography
Iridium-192     •            
Gold-198    •                 

73.8 days

2.7 days

27.7 days

Used to trace sand to study coastal erosion
Tritiated water 12.32 years Used as a tracer to study sewage and liquid wastes.
Ytterbium-169 32 days    Used in gamma radiography
Zinc-65 †               Manganese-54    •    243.87 days
312.1 days 
Used to predict the behaviour of heavy metal components in effluents from mining waste water.

Key: • reactor-produced † cyclotron-produced