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Docket #:2023-09

This proposal has been submitted for review.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Cobalt-60 Radiation Cancer Treatment Unit, 1951

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

In 1951, two teams of engineers, scientists, and physicians in London and Saskatoon independently yet cooperatively designed the first cobalt-60 radiation treatment units or “cobalt bombs”. These units focused gamma radiation directly on cancerous cells. The first use of the treatment was 27 October 1951 at Victoria Hospital, London. Decades of effective worldwide use and the thousands of lives extended have proven the dependability of these units. [67 words, 451 characters and spaces]

French: UNITÉ DE TRAITEMENT DU CANCER PAR RAYONNEMENT COBALT-60 En 1951, deux équipes d'ingénieurs, de scientifiques et de médecins, à Londres et à Saskatoon, ont conçu indépendamment mais en coopération les premières unités de radiothérapie au cobalt-60 ou «bombes au cobalt». Ces unités focalisaient le rayonnement gamma directement sur les cellules cancéreuses. Des décennies d'utilisation efficace dans le monde entier et des milliers de vies prolongées ont prouvé la fiabilité de ces unités.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society (NPSS)

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

London (R70007) and North Saskatchewan (R70039) (both R7)

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: North Saskatchewan Section
Senior Officer Name: Adam Detillieux

Unit: London Section
Senior Officer Name: Dennis Michaelson

Unit: IEEE Canada
Senior Officer Name: Robert Anderson

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: North Saskatchewan Section
Senior Officer Name: Adam Detillieux

Unit: London Section
Senior Officer Name: Dennis Michaelson

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: North Saskatchewan
IEEE Section Chair name: Adam Detillieux

IEEE Section: London
IEEE Section Chair name: Dennis Michaelson

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Murray MacDonald
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: Denard Lynch
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

London ON: 42.959725893147514, -81.22562213293283. Saskatoon SK: 52.136222, -106.630443

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. London, ON: Victoria Hospital visitors area; adjacent to Historic Sites and Monuments Canada plaque. Saskatoon SK: Research Centre - Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

London ON: in the garden area to the visitors’ right at the main entrance to the Cancer Program. Saskatoon SK: on outside wall adjacent to main entrance to building.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

In both locations, the plaques will be external and available to the public 24 hours. The areas are overseen by security personal (Victoria Hospital,; University of Saskatchewan) and are generally considered a low risk for vandalism.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

London ON: London Health Sciences. Saskatoon SK: University of Saskatchewan

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

“The development of cobalt-60 machines represented a momentous breakthrough providing improved tumour control and reduced complications, along with much lower skin reactions, at a relatively low cost.”1 Prior to the development of artificial radio isotopes, radiation cancer therapy was limited to low-energy sources with limited penetration capabilities. The significant development of cobalt-60 based treatment machines resulted in “The progression from kilovoltage to megavoltage energy was considered a giant leap forward in the practice of radiotherapy.”1 The co-development of the “cobalt-bomb” treatment units solved many outstanding roadblocks to a treatment option that has been credited with saving thousands of lives. The vision and dedication of the scientists involved in the development of a cobalt source, design and manufacture of units to hold and control the source and concentrated dosimetry and calibration work led to the first “cobalt bomb” treatments at London Ontario’s Victoria Hospital and at the University of Saskatchewan in 1951 led to an era of radiotherapy oncology that benefited patients around the globe for decades. 1 Media:A_Retrospective_of_Cobalt-60_Rediation_Therapy.pdf.ogg

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

While X-radiation had been utilized for cancer treatment since the 1920s, energy sources with sufficient energy for deep, focused penetration and reliable control of dosage levels for the target site prevented its use for treatment of cancerous growths deep inside the body. The radioactive isotope Radium was used to provide a higher energy source, but its high cost, limited penetration and safety issues severely limited its use for widespread cancer treatments. Nuclear work in the 1930s and 1940s resulted in the capability to produce artificial nuclear isotopes, one of which was cobalt-60, with a long enough half-life to potentially be useful as a treatment radiation source. The development of suitable source, a machine to contain it and a methodology and data to control it were still required before this potential could be realized in a practical setting.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

At the time of its development, the main “competitors” to a cobalt-sourced radiation tool were, arguably, high-voltage electrostatic x-rays and radium-based radiation treatment. Both of these were ineffective for deep tumours, were relatively expensive and had safety concerns. As described above and in the references, effective x-ray treatment involved intimidating, massive machines to achieve the high voltages required but yet were still limited in depth of penetration and were therefore ineffective for deep, cancerous growths. The high voltages required to be even reasonably useful made this option expensive and the output was also inconsistent, complicating dosage control. Radium radiation was also plagued by only shallow penetration limitations. Radium sources were relatively short-lived and very expensive. The decaying process also resulted in a radioactive gas and associated safety concerns for operators. Cobalt radiation treatment grew out of a collaboration and coincidence of events that addressed the limitations and shortcomings of previous cancer treatment options. Nuclear reactor developments in the 1930s and 40s allowed the transformation of naturally-occurring Cobalt-59 into a long-lived isotope, Cobalt-60, which allowed medical physicists to envision and propose the use of artificial radioactive isotopes in cancer treatment. The capability and willingness of Chalk River scientists to develop Cobalt-60 sources and the enthusiastic uptake of the opportunity by researchers and medical personnel to design and build working therapy machines resulted in practical radiation therapy being introduced to the oncological community in very short order after the necessary pieces were in place.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

The full text of supporting references have been submitted.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Media:A_Retrospective_of_Cobalt-60_Rediation_Therapy.pdf Media:Cobalt_therapy-Wikipedia.pdf Media:Cobalt_timeline_UofS_1951.pdf Media:Fedoruk_radiant_life.pdf Media:The_Cancer_Bomb_Nov-2020_Shewaga.pdf

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.