1950s glow-in-the-dark watches from Israel aid nuclear research
Updated: Aug 17
If necessity is the mother of invention, as the proverb goes, then times of crisis can usher in extraordinary creativity.
This was the case in the spring of 1970 when an oxygen tank exploded during the Apollo 13 spaceflight—forcing the astronauts onboard and mission control (pictured below) to quickly change course from a moon landing to a rescue mission.
Within the span of 48 hours, NASA engineers devised five alternate trajectory return-to-Earth options in addition to a host of DIY solutions for the flight crew to conserve electricity and scrub their space module of carbon dioxide—a solution that involved plastic bags, cardboard, and tape. The imaginative workarounds served to extend the life of every resource the astronauts had access to and ultimately saved the lives of all three crew members on board.
'Houston, we have a problem'
While certainly not as dire, Serva CEO and founder Ian Horvath recently invented his way around some roadblocks of his own.
In need of 10-15 milligrams of Radium-226, Horvath took an unusual procurement approach when confronted with a delay at the National Isotope Development Center—ultimately leading him to Ebay, where he began buying up old watch parts from the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
The watch parts all contained radium dials.
"I've got a pile of about two thousand watch hands now, enough to get the milligram quantities I need," said Horvath.
One jewelry repair shop based in Israel took an interest in Serva's work—even going so far as to help Horvath find more watch suppliers.
"The jewelry repair shop has managed to quickly get us the materials we need and connect us to suppliers all over the world," said Horvath.
After receiving the watch parts, the Serva team, with the help of a nuclear reactor, had to figure out how to do the chemistry to extract the radium.
"Sure, the process took some time, but at least we're moving forward," said Horvath. "I'd rather take a more circuitous route than just be at a standstill. Obstacles don't stop us at Serva—we always find a way forward. "
So, why Radium-226?
Horvath and his team are in the process of converting it into Actinium-225 (Ac225 for short), which can be used in health care treatments to help fight cancer—a new and growing focus for Serva Energy in the area of nuclear medicine.
"It's pretty powerful," said Horvath, referring to the patient image below which shows cancer in remission after just three doses of Ac225 antibody therapy.
Using its Smart Nuclear Materials (SNM), Serva aims to produce potentially high enough quantities of this cancer cure through a hybrid fission-fusion process in order to serve the greater patient population for the first time since Ac225 was introduced.
"The issue with Ac225 is production," says Horvath, "and we have the tech that can potentially solve this problem."
It appears Serva has the imagination and the ingenuity too.