Previously unknown isotope of uranium discovered


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Inspenet, April 14, 2023

A group of nuclear physicists from scientific institutions in Japan and South Korea revealed the discovery of a previously undetected neutron-rich isotope of uranium while examining the atoms of some heavy elements, reported.

Isotopes are atoms of the same chemical element whose nuclei contain a different number of neutrons, giving them different atomic masses. In the case of heavy isotopes, which are characterized by having abundant neutrons in their nuclei, certain difficulties have been encountered when determining their properties, due to the problems that arise when trying to create them (nuclear synthesis).

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Creating isotopes artificially

Faced with this situation, alternative ways of synthesizing the nuclei of heavy element atoms under artificial conditions have been sought. In the case of this new study, recently reported in the journal Physical Review Letters, the researchers conducted their experiments at the KEK Isotope Separation System (KISS) facility in the Japanese city of Saitama.

These tests consisted of accelerating uranium-231 nuclei in a rotating platinum-198 nuclei target. In this process, called multinucleon transfer, the two isotopes exchanged neutrons and protons, resulting in nuclear fragments containing different isotopes.

The scientific team analyzed the new isotopes using time-of-flight mass spectroscopy, which makes it possible to quantify the mass of each nuclei as a function of the time it takes to travel a certain distance through a medium. After concluding this procedure, the precise mass values of 19 heavy isotopes were obtained, which contain between 143 and 150 neutrons.

The physicists assured that most of the isotopes analyzed had not been previously measured, specifically uranium-241, the name given to the new isotope with atomic number (number of protons in its nucleus) 92 and mass number (sum of protons and neutrons in its nucleus) 241. Based on theoretical calculations, it was specified that uranium 241 could have a half-life of 40 minutes.

“The discovery of a new neutron-rich uranium isotope is the first since 1979,” said Toshitaka Niwase, a researcher at the KEK Nuclear Science Center in Wako (Japan), who argued that “this is due to the extreme difficulty of synthesizing a nuclide in this region by general reaction”.

The methodology used by the scientists in this research will help to identify the structures of the large nuclei associated with heavy elements, which would contribute to the modification of the models used for the construction of weapons and nuclear power plants, as well as the theories that describe explosive astronomical events. Likewise, this methodology could be used for the analysis of other heavy isotopes, in addition to discovering new ones.

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