Molybdenum – A Building block of nuclear medicines

What am I looking at?

This is a scale model of the smallest building blocks of the metal molybdenum, often just known as Molly.  Each of the blue shapes represents a molybdenum atom.  Within the box you find one whole molybdenum atom, sitting in the middle, and then eight quarters of atoms that sit in each of the corners.  If you were to take many of these cubic boxes and stack them up with each other you would build the crystal structure of this important metal.

What’s the scale of this model?  The atoms are contained in a box that is 1 metre by 1 metre by 1 metre, however reality each side of this box would only be about 0.3 nanometers in length.  That’s 0.00000003 metres. The boxes of atoms are so small that millions of them could fit across one of the hairs on your arm

Why is this crystal structure important?

This is one of the most basic crystal structures. In other words there is only one type of atom contained in the box. The box itself is often referred to as a unit cell. As well as being the structure of molybdenum this is also the structure of many other materials, including potassium, lithium and iron, but the box itself will adjust to fit the bigger or smaller elements.

What’s going on in Australia with this material?

So have you ever heard of molybdenum before?  Yes, it’s probably a strange choice of material to feature in an exhibition like this, but hopefully you’ll see soon find out how important it is. Molybdenum is an element, like carbon for instance, and it’s one of the simplest materials that makes up our universe.  It is the 42nd element of the periodic table.

This Photo by 2012rc is licensed under CC BY-SA
This Photo by 2012rc is licensed under CC BY-SA

Like its near neighbours on the periodic table, iron and nickel, molybdenum is a metal, characteristically shiny and metallic.