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Wednesday
Apr222015

The island of stability!

The moment I learned about atoms and their subatomic particles, I began to view the world differently. The smooth wooden desk before me suddenly had bumps and irregularities; the empty air around me now consisted of fluid-like particles shifting with the wave of my hand. In that moment, I realized nature excited me, but that moment could never have prepared me for the depth and complexity of the exploration of atoms.

Ever since the groundbreaking experimental validation of the Higgs Boson’s existence, there has been a recent surge in Nuclear Physics as several countries and organizations including USA, China and CERN race to build the largest and most powerful colliders in the world. Not only are these colliders good to identify subatomic particles, they can also prove the existence of new elements as described in a recent article by Adam Hadhazy.

In his article, Adam describes the basic physics of the collision of a target element with a proton beam to produce super-heavy elements. Due to the orientation of the subatomic particles and the balance of the fundamental forces, most super-heavy elements have a short half-life and some decay too quickly for detection. As Adam describes it, the goal of this exploration of atoms is the “island of stability” where stable elements have “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons. The Helholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Germany has taken a step closest to the “island of stability” with their discovery of the isotope lawrencium-266 with a lifespan of 11hours, a by-product of the extremely unstable super-heavy element 117. This discovery is only aided by the upcoming facility in Russia called the Super Heavy Element Factory (SHE-Factory) that is predicted to be able to detect previously “escapee” particles with exemplary detectors and powerful beams with estimated 20times intensity than today’s colliders. Another approach to the “island of stability” is the use of neutrons. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams opening in 2022 in Michigan seeks to shoot neutron-rich beams to both conventional and non-conventional target elements.

The predicted discoveries of isotopes and new elements have an array of implications ranging from medical uses such as radiation therapy and imaging to educational advances in Atomic Physics.

-ST

References

ATLAS Collaboration, "Observation of a new particle in the search for the Standard Model Higgs boson with the ATLAS detector at the LHC," Physics Letters B 716, 1 (17 September 2012).

CMS Collaboration, "Observation of a new boson at a mass of 125 GeV with the CMS experiment at the LHC," Physics Letters B 716, 30 (17 September 2012).

Elizabeth Gibney, “China plans super collider,” Nature 511, 394–395 (24 July 2014)

Eugenie Samuel Reich, “Physicists plan to build a bigger LHC,” Nature 503, 177 (14 November 2013)

Adam Hadhazy, “Forging New Elements,” DiscoverMagazine 18-20 March 2015

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