From the IAEA archives: the mobile isotope laboratory

Two self-contained mobile radioisotope laboratories were donated to the IAEA by the United States in 1958. The laboratories were specially designed by the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (Oak Ridge TN, USA) at a cost of US$ 85,000 to provide the means for basic training in radioisotope handling techniques. Director General Sterling Cole circulated detailed information asking for requests from Member States wishing to make use of the training units:

Each of the two mobile laboratories consisted of a “chemical laboratory and radiation counting room, mounted permanently on the chassis of a large lorry. Each unit is equipped to provide instruction in various techniques for the use of radioisotopes in medicine, agriculture and industry, and to conduct scientific experiments in biology, chemistry, etc. It appears that the laboratories offer an economic means for training a large number of professionals, technicians and advanced students in a short time …” IAEA Archives, Circular letter, February 24, 1959; SC/216, Box 8619

The first laboratory was used for training purposes in Europe before being sent to East Asia in 1960. The second laboratory was put to use in Mexico in 1960, then travelled through Latin America.

The IAEA provided each mobile laboratory with a scientist in charge of technical instruction, an electronic technician responsible for the maintenance of instruments and who would also act as assistant to the scientist and a driver and operator, who would be in charge of mechanical maintenance.

The visit of the mobile laboratory gave a powerful impetus to atomic training and research allowing universities to train young scientists in basic isotope techniques. From 1959 to 1965 the two units visited 16 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas and some 1500 students and technicians participated in training courses.

All images are from the IAEA Archives.

The Head of the US delegation to the IAEA, Robert McKinney (right) describing the equipment inside a model of one of the mobile labs to the Director General of the IAEA, William Sterling Cole (left). 29 April 1958. Please credit IAEAA model of one of the two self-contained mobile radioisotope laboratories donated to the IAEA by the USA. The laboratories were specially designed by the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies to provide the means for basic training in radioisotope techniques at a cost of $85,000 for both. 1958. Please credit IAEADr. Traude Bernert, Head of the Austrian Isotope Distribution Centre, explaining the handling of a lead shielded Geiger Müller to Austrian medical officers. November 1958. Please credit IAEAAt a training course for Austrian Medical Officers in Vienna, Dr. Traude Bernert, explaining the handling of an oscilloscope which forms part of the equipment of the laboratory. 10 November 1958. Please credit IAEACrossing a wooden bridge on the border between Yugoslavia and Greece, April 1959 (today North Macedonia – Greece border). The Mobile Isotope Laboratory was sent to Athens to help with research in disease diagnosis at the Isotope Laboratory of the Alexandra Hospital.  April 1959. Please credit IAEAEn route to León after being used for training in radioactive isotope techniques and applications at the University of Guanajuato. 19 February 1960. Please credit UN Photo/Yutaka NagataOn its way to León as part of a tour of training establishments and universities at the request of the Mexican Government from January to March 1960.  Behind is a vehicle carrying exhibits prepared by the Mexican Nuclear Energy Commission to illustrate radioisotope techniques and applications.  19 February 1960. Please credit UN PhotoProfessors of the University of Nuevo León carrying out experiments in radioisotope techniques. March 1960. Please credit Mexican Nuclear Energy CommissionProf. Armando López Martin del Campo (seated), Director of the Department of Research at the University of Guanajuato, lecturing students on the use of a geiger counter installed in the mobile laboratory. 18 February 1960. Please credit UN Photo/Yutaka NagataThe first IAEA mobile isotope laboratory being shipped to Seoul for training in radioisotope techniques in various countries in Asia. February 1960. Please credit IAEAThe laboratory undergoing a wheel change in Seoul, Republic of Korea. April-September 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefThe laboratory undergoing a wheel change in Seoul, Republic of Korea. April-September 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefApril 5-16 1960.  Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefUnloading at Gwangju railway station. 12 July 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefRepublic of Korea. 30 June 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefPower supply for the Mobile Radioisotope Laboratory. 17 July 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefLeaving the Republic of Korea, the mobile laboratory was first hoisted onto a launch and then onto the deck of the USS President van Buren. March 1961. Please credit IAEAFollowing Korean custom, students took off their shoes upon entering the mobile laboratory. March 1961. Please credit IAEAMobile radioisotope lab truck in front of the customs office building in the Port of Manila. March 1960. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefCutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the training courses.  11 April 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefWelcoming committee at the Port of Cebu where the laboratory was used for courses in radioisotope techniques at San Carlos University under the auspices of the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission. 17 April 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefSan Carlos University, Cebu. April 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefSanto Tomas University, Manila. April-June 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefBogor Institute of Agriculture August 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefJuly 1961. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefAugust 1961-March 1962. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefIn Singapore. August 1961-March 1962.  Please credit IAEAOne of the IAEA's two mobile radioisotope laboratories being unloaded at port of Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City).  4 March 1962. Please credit IAEASaigon, April 1962 (today Ho Chi Minh City).  Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefAt the Atomic Energy office. April-May 1962. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL Josef At the Atomic Energy office. April-May 1962. Please credit IAEA/HAEUPL JosefUncertain location - possibly in Brazil.  1960-1963. Please credit IAEAUncertain location. 1960-1963. Please credit IAEATrip to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. 1960-1963. Please credit IAEAThe lab at the Plaza Tiradentes. 1960-1963. Please credit IAEATrip to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. Uncertain location. 1960-1963. Please credit IAEAThe lab was transported by train due to road closures caused by flooding of the Parana river. June 1963. Please credit IAEATrip to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. 1963. Please credit IAEATrip to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. 1960-1963. Please credit IAEAWhile being transported by train in Brazil, the mobile lab was involved in a crash between two cargo trains on 23 July 1963. Fortunately, the lab only sustained minor damage. 1963.  Please credit IAEAAt the José Benjamin Burela Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. October 1963. Please credit IAEAThe mobile isotope lab being hoisted on a ship to travel from Montevideo (Uruguay) to Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). 1961. Please credit IAEA
Last update: 3 September 2019

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