IYPT Elements

IYPT 2019 Elements 071: Lutetium: Meteorite dating, catalysis and cancer treatment

Element 71 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is lutetium. Lutetium can be used to determine the age of meteorites and is also used as a catalyst and in some cancer treatments.

Lutetium is used to date meteorites and minerals using lutetium-hafnium dating. This uses the decay of lutetium-176 into hafnium-176, a process which has a half-life of 37.1 billion years, to determine the age of a sample.

One of lutetium’s major uses is in the petrochemicals industry. Lutetium oxide can be used as a catalyst in the cracking of hydrocarbons, the process used to break down large hydrocarbon molecules from crude oil into smaller, more useful products.

Lutetium-177 is a radioactive isotope of lutetium which can be used in ‘lutetium therapy’. This is a treatment for cancers involving tumours from the nervous or endocrine systems. The treatment can slow or prevent the growth of tumours, as well as some of the symptoms they cause. Lutetium has also been trialled for use against advanced prostate cancer.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.