Rebecca Gerber

Chemistry Major, Nuclear Science Major

I've worked for two successive summer research semesters on The Production and Separation of Fluorine-18 via Neutron Double Knockout: A Potential Low-Cost Cyclotronless Alternative.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

I came to SFU as a second-year transfer student from Capilano University. SFU provided an excellent and smooth transition from a smaller, teaching-focused university to a larger research institution. Both the excellent transferability of my courses and level of financial support available to transfer students influenced my decision, but it also helped that the Burnaby campus is easily accessible via transit and in a beautiful location.

How would you describe your research or program to a family member?

The increasing access to radioactive isotopes, or radionuclides, has transformed both fundamental research and applied medical imaging, monitoring, and treatment. However, the demand for these radionuclides has increased far faster than our ability to produce them - which is often reliant on large, centralized institutions and vulnerable to crises that affect the production of both precursors and the radionuclides themselves. In particular, medical use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans has increased exponentially in the past decade, but it relies on fluorine-18 produced by cyclotron facilities. These facilities are geographically sparse and cost tens of millions of dollars. My research focuses on providing an alternative means to produce 18F from naturally abundant 19F by using low-cost, commercially available neutron generators which cost orders of magnitude less. This is possible via the 19F(n, 2n)18F, or neutron double knockout, reaction. I have shown that it is possible to produce 18F using these neutron generators and commercially available chemical targets. More critically, I have been able to isolate the 18F in high specific yields using a novel, off-the-shelf separation method that should be immediately applicable to scaling up and applying known radiochemical methods. It is my hope that this method can provide a way for small institutions and remote communities to access this essential radionuclide for research and medical use.

What are you particularly enjoying about your studies/research at SFU? 

SFU has provided me the opportunity to engage with the international chemical, physical, and nuclear research community and to present my research at an international-level chemistry conference - and even receive an award for doing so! Being able to engage with individuals from all over the world, in different fields, has given me so many wonderful experiences and broadened my perspective on what it means to be a researcher, and what it means to be a student.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?

Research opportunities can come from where you least expect it. My supervisor reached out to me based on my efforts to solve "bonus" coursework, but it's even more important to build relationships with your professors as you proceed through your studies. So, get to know your community at SFU and meet some amazing people! Connecting with your peers, colleagues, and professors during research is uniquely rewarding and offers an entirely different world from studying. Yes, you'll progress professionally, but you'll also find personal growth and satisfaction in pursuing rare and meaningful questions. Never stop pursuing what makes you curious and engaged.