The field of nuclear medicine is highly diverse and multidisciplinary, but nuclear and radiochemistry are the core disciplines because radiopharmaceuticals are integral to every nuclear medicine study. The workforce for the field of nuclear medicine consists of personnel at all levels of education (B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Phar.M.D., and M.D.) in academia, industry, and government laboratories. In academia, nuclear and radiochemistry expertise involving nuclear medicine is mainly found in radiology departments, not in chemistry departments.

Those performing nuclear and radiochemistry in the field of nuclear medicine are trained in a wide variety of disciplines and may receive on-the-job training. The field of nuclear medicine is growing rapidly, and properly trained workers will be essential for continued success in this important area of modern health care.


The use of radioactivity in medicine started with Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered x-rays in 1895. A week after his discovery, Röntgen took an x-ray of his wife’s hand, clearly revealing her wedding ring and bones. In 1901 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his innovation.

In 1934, building on the work of the Pierre and Marie Curie, their daughter Irène and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, created radioactive elements by irradiating stable isotopes with alpha particles. At the time there was significant interest in the use of radioactive materials in medicine and this discovery allowed for the quick, economic creation of radioactive materials in larger quantities. Based on these discoveries, Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. The important research of the Joliot-Curies is in many ways the foundation of modern nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceutical research, as the production of radionuclides by bombarding stable isotopes with various types of particles is the key method of production of many of the most widely used radionuclides for nuclear medicine imaging and therapy.

George de Hevesy followed up on the work by the Joliot-Curies with his Nobel Prize–winning research on the use of radionuclides as tracers in the study of chemical processes, which paved the way for the development of radiopharmaceuticals that trace biochemical and physiological processes in vivo but do not produce any pharmacological effects.

The invention of the cyclotron in the early 1930s by Ernest Lawrence paved the way for the discovery of many biologically relevant artificially


1 For more information, see [accessed July 5, 2012].

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement