A short history of the Institute

The early days of the application of radioisotopes in Hungary (1954 – 59)

The application of radioisotopes for peaceful purposes began in the USA in 1946, and in the USSR in 1950. Shortly after in Hungary, in February 1954, the president of the Hungarian Academy of Science (HAS) gave the commission of supervising the establishment of conditions for the safe application of radioisotopes to the General Secretary. He transferred this task to the Branch of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences of HAS. Since there was no preliminary experience available in this field, and the application of radioisotopes needs extreme precaution, and experimental work was also anticipated, a preliminary survey was carried out in order to estimate the possible demands and the possibilities for establishing appropriate laboratories. After consultations, a board of experts was erected (CCI - Central Committee for Isotopes, HAS, presided by F. B. Straub). The purchase, safe storage, transport and documentation were provided by the Distribution Department of Isotopes (DDI) of the Committee (A. Veres, radiation physicist). The first cargo of radioisotopes (100 mCi 60Co and three 32P preparations) arrived at Ferihegy airport on 15th September 1954. This cargo was followed by tree further ones in this year, consisting of 27 preparations made of 14C, 24Na, 35S 89Sr 111Ag and 131I.

The National Committee for the Atomic Energy (NCAE) was founded by a resolution of the Cabinet in January 1st, 1956, and the duties of the CCI were taken over by the Expert Committee for Application of Isotopes of the NCAE. The number of documented isotope preparations exceeded 350 in 1957.

The predecessor of the Institute of Isotopes – the early period of isotope production (1959-1966)

The predecessor institute in title, the Institute for Distribution of Isotopes was founded from the former DDI by a resolution of the NCAE in 1st Aug., 1959. The director of the Institute was P. Tétényi with a staff of 15 persons. The assigned duties were scientific research, development of methodologies for nuclear technics and controlled and safe supply of radioisotopes on national level. In the same campus, in Csillebérc at the Central Research Insitute for Physics (CRIP), a research nuclear reactor was put in operation with nominal power of 2 MW in the same year. Using the research reactor, isotope production was performed in cooperation with the Nuclear Chemistry Laboratory of CRIP, procedures were elaborated for production of 18 preparations (with isotopes 24Na, 42K, 51Cr, 64Cu, 75Se, 76As, 82Br, 86Rb, 85Sr, 90Y, 110Ag, 111Ag, 131I, 140Ba, 140La, 192Ir, 198Au and 203Hg). The production of isotopes was shifted gradually mostly to the Institute of Isotopes. The production reached a higher level by the construction of a separate building devoted exclusively for the isotope separation in 1964. 22 hot-chambers were allotted to the processes, on the total area of 1130 m2 (with further service units included). The expertise of Institute was strengthened by a Government Resolution (10/1964), with prescribing the national registration of radioisotopes and charging this duty to the Institute. Programs aimed for application of radioisotopes at various Ministries were elaborated with the principal cooperation of the Institute.

The Institute of Isotopes under supervision of HAS – the first period (1967 – mid 80-ties )

The supervision of the Institute was passed over from the NCAE to HAS in 1967. In correspondence, the scientific activity got an emphasis, besides the isotope production evolved further. The structure of the Institute developed in the sixties was retained for a long while. Five departments were formed:

1. Department for Inorganic Chemistry

The isotope production was primarily assigned to this department. Processes were developed almost for all the most important isotopes. In particular, for 131I and 125I, the latter got a special importance later, at developing the radioimmune assay methodology. In the nuclear medicine a specific demand arised for the 99mTc – the procedure had been elaborated and c.a. 2 Ci / day activity was supplied for the hospitals providing a mean for performing 50 thousand examinations per year. For illustration, the total activity in the open-source products was 6400 Ci in the 1971-75 period. The production of sources for irradiation was also noticeable (e.g. 1 megaCi 60Co and 17 kCi 192Ir in 1978). 

2. Department for Organic Chemistry,

The department carried out numerous syntheses applying 14C and 3H tracers in various compounds used for biochemical and pharmacological studies. In particular, widely recognised results were attained in the field of studies of prostaglandines. Futhermore, synthesis of various nucleotides were elaborated containing 32P and 35S tracers. Later custom syntheses were elaborated mostly for pesticides (over 100 compounds).

3. Department for Physical Chemistry

In the group of Catalysis mechanisms and kinetics of various catalytic processes were studied by 14C and 35S tracers. Isotope exchange of stable isotopes (1H – 2H) was also investigated by mass spectrometry. The methodology and aspects of infrared spectroscopy were implemented and applied by the group of Spectroscopy. Another group was formed for studying the radiation chemistry, in particular formation and reactions of radicals in hydrocarbons. These studies were mostly based to the 60Co g -irradiation facility. 

4. Department for Application of Radioisotopes

The Group for electronics of detection and measurement of radiation constructed and produced a wide variety of devices. The group for Technological Applications worked out and used numerous methods for applying radioisotopes in industrial processes. At the Group of Irradiation a semi-industrial gamma-irradiation apparatus was constructed using 60Co with 80 kCi activity. 

5. Department for Physics

Research on nuclear physics was pursued – detection of nuclear photo-effect in (gamma,gamma') processes was performed, the corresponding cross sections, energy levels and life-times were determined for several hundred nuclear isomers. The Group of dosimetry developed various chemical dosimeters, usable in wide range of irradiation. Another group developed thermoluminescent dosimeters, and carried on related studies on the basic processes of stabilization of excited states in semiconductors. In correspondence with the official safe-guard tasks, novel methods were developed for detection and measurement of nuclear materials, e.g. by determining the exhaust level of the nuclear fuel and for detecting the presence of transuranium elements. The national registry of isotopes was maintained also at this department.

The personnel reached the summit with c.a. 430 fellows at the mid 80-ties. To separate the commercial activity, the Institute established a subsidiary, the IZINTA Ltd, with 50 persons. (The Ltd has been flourishing since then.) In the first part of 80-ties the instrumentation of the Institute was amended with large equipments, e.g. a linear electron accelerator (4 MeV, 80 – 2600 ns pulses) devoted for radiation chemistry studies, a Kratos XPS for X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy of surfaces, an in-situ Mössbauer spectrometer, high power lasers for photoacoustic spectroscopy, etc.

The first Hungarian manual for isotope laboratories was compiled (Lengyel, Jász: Izotóplaboratóriumi zsebkönyv). The results of the experience collected in the Institute in the first ten years were compiled in a decennium publication (Research in the Field of Radiochemistry – 370 pages, 1969). This volume was followed shortly after with another one (Research on Isotope Technics – 328 pages, 1972). A third publication (Research on the Application of Radioisotopes – 360 pages) was issued in 1980. Textbooks recogned internationally were also published in this period, namely, Radiolysis of Hydrocarbons, Ed. G. Földiák – Akadémiai Kiadó and Elsevier, 1981, Industrial Application of Radioisotopes, Ed. G. Földiák, and S. Rózsa: Nuclear measurements at the Industry, as well. The Institute published a regular journal dedicated to disseminate the experience on the application of radioisotopes (Izotóptechnika).

The directors of the Institute in this period were A. Veres, and G. Földiák.

From the second part of 80-ties till 1993

As for the production and application of radioisotopes a certain decline was experienced, due to the suspension of the operation of the Research Nuclear Reactor at the CRIP, since a reconstruction had been carried out with a simultaneous increase of nominal capacity to 10 MW. The scientific activities were ongoing on other fields, the Institute’s achievements were reputed by various international scientific communities, e.g. by awarding the right to organize various international conferences fully (10th International Conference on Catalysis, over thousand participant in 1991, chairmen: L. Guczi, F. Solymosi, P. Tétényi), or a quadrennial series of symposia was established on radiation chemistry (Tihany symposia – chairpersons: G. Földiák, L. Wojnárovits, E. Takács - still ongoing series), or conferences were organised jointly with other Institutes (International Conference on Radiation Protection and Dosimetry, and International Conference on the Application of the Mössbauer Effect, 1989).

External effects reached the Institute in this period as well. The national economy was in decline, thus the financial support of the Academy was also restricted in an extent. A broad survey and evaluation of the academic institutions was carried out. The economic analysis showed that the research activity is less than 10 % at the departments dealing with radioisotope production - the overwhelming portion of income is obtained from the trade of products. In a transient period a proposal was elaborated for the separation of two parts – from the departments dealing primarily with production and trade, a small enterprise, the Institute of Isotopes Co. Ltd. was formed with personnel of 180 fellows, as of 1st January 1993, whereas the remaining part was retained as the academic institution with a staff of 150 persons.

The directors of the Institute in this transient period were G. Földiák and L. Zsinka.

The Institute under the changed conditions (1993 - 1997)

The remaining part was reorganised by the new director, Z. Paál. The research work had been carried on in seven departments (i/ Dept. of Surface Chemistry and Catalysts, ii/ Dept. of Catalysis and Tracer Studies, iii/ Dept. of Nuclear Physics, iv/ Dept. of Spectroscopy, v/ Dept. of Photophysics – later Dept. of Chemical Physics, vi/ Dept. of Radiation Chemistry, and vii/ Dept. of Radiation Safety.) There were two main centres of the research work: nuclear and radiation chemisty, and chemistry of surfaces and catalysis. Other activities, connected closely or loosely to the mentioned two main streams, were also pursued (e.g. molecular modelling with density functional theory or studying and applying learning algorithms). The Scientific Council of the Institute was restored, and held meetings regularly – provided a forum for exchange of information (and, among others - elaborated the principles of evaluation ot the scientific activities of departments, which has been applied since then). The scientific activities were complemented by the supporting expert activity provided for the Hungarian Atomic Energy Agency (HAEA) – with hosting the National Registry of Radioisotopes, and by elaborating novel methods for detection of nuclear materials (safe guard). A novel nuclear method was also established at the Institute, namely the prompt gamma activation analysis, by joining the Budapest Neutron Center at the Institute of Atomic Energy in the campus. In short, conditions for a sustainable research work were created and stabilized in this perod.

In the frame of the Chemical Research Centre (1998 - 2005)

A basic change had taken place again in the external conditions: namely the Institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences were given a substantial increase of financial support, on the conditions that a prior evaluation and rationalisation of activities had been carried out. The Institute was classified as a chemical research institute in this procedure. From the three chemical Research Institutes located in Budapest (Central Research Institute for Chemisrty – ca. 430 fellow, Institute of Isotopes – ca. 120 fellow, and Research Laboratory for Inorganic Chemistry – c.a. 40 persons) a research center, the Chemical Research Center was created with a total staff of 420 persons.

A part of the service departments, and the legal entities of the three founding institutes were transferred to the Center, whereas the scientific autonomies were retained at the Institutes.

A reorganisation of the structure had also taken place inside the Research Centre in 2003: five institutes were formed from the previous three. This reorganisation touched the Institute of Isotopes in an extent: the Department of Spectroscopy was translocated to the novel Institute of Structural Chemistry - thus, the personnel dropped to 87 persons.

Separate institute again (2006 - )

The General Assembly of the Hugarian Academy of Sciences restored the independent status of the Institute in May 2005. Accordingly, the Institute quitted the frame of the Research Centre from 2006. The necessary service departments (finance, accounting, human resources) have been re-established, and the institute has been in function autonomously since 1st January 2006.

The emphasis on the nuclear and radiation studies has been reinforced (application of nuclear methods, research and development related to nuclear safety, radiation chemistry, application of radioisotopes), besides the research activity in the field of heterogeneous catalysis has also been sustained.

The level of the output of research activity is maintained – the annual output is c.a. 60 – 70 scientific publication of ISI registration. (It is worth mentioning that the total number of the Institute’s communications published since the foundation is over 3600. The titles of the publications from the last ten years are also shown on a separate web page.) The support expertise is still provided occasionally for the HAEA, and the maintenance of the National Registry of Isotopes is allocated newly to the Institute as has been reconfirmed by a recent law (issued by the Minister of Internal Affairs). A modest development of methodology is in progress: a new mass spectrometer with mass resolution of 1/10000 mu. is installed, and construction of an in-beam Mössbauer equipment is in process by applying simultaneous excitation for producing sources by a neutron beam line at the Neutron Centre.
The director of the Institute has been L. Wojnárovits since 1999.

Futher readings (in Hungarian):

  1. A. Veres: 25 years of production and application of radioisotopes in Hungary, Izotóptechnika, 22 (1979) 223 - 234,
  2. L. Wojnárovits, 40 years of the Institute of Isotopes and Surface Chemistry, Kémiai Közlemények, 1999, pp. 409 - 418,
  3. L. Zsinka, The past 40 years and the present of the production and application of radioisotopes, Kémiai Közlemények, 1999, pp. 419 - 428,
  4. P. Tétényi, The Institute of Isotopes and Surface Chemistry, in the series of The Research Institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Chemical Research Center, 2000, pp. 51 - 68.

Archive materials