Radiochemistry is such a broad term that it sometimes is defined so that it encompasses many of the other terms defined here, such as hot-atom chemistry. We'll define the field as the collection of methods and techniques that use radioactivity to follow chemical processes. In addition to hot-atom chemistry, we'll include the use of radiotracers: the incorporation of small amounts of radioactive isotopes into usually nonradioactive molecules so that concentrations of these species and their reaction products can be detected easily. The presence of radioactivity is incidental to the reaction. The reaction proceeds as if the radioactivity were not present, but the radioactive "tag" permits observation of reaction products, yields, and mechanisms otherwise not possible. Analytical, biological, and medical applications are obvious. The techniques of radiochemistry are also used to detect production of new elements by nuclear chemists and physicists following bombardment of suitable precursors in particle accelerators.
All of these applications were central to research programs supported by the Atomic Energy Commission.
Last Modified: June 28, 2012