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Scientific and technological frontier

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  • The birth of the lightest magnesium isotope to date could help scientists reveal how atoms form

  •  Release time: 2022-01-06 Clicks: 943  
  • Science and Technology Daily reporter Liu Xia

        According to a recent report by the physicist organization network, researchers from Peking University in China, the University of Washington in the United States, Michigan State University and other institutions have worked together to create the world's lightest magnesium isotope, magnesium-18, which helps scientists better understand how atoms are formed。

      The Earth is rich in natural magnesium, which was produced in stars long ago and is now an important part of the minerals of the Earth's crust and an indispensable nutrient in our daily diet。This magnesium is stable, and its nuclei do not fall apart。The new magnesium isotope, magnesium-18, is unstable and cannot be found in nature。

      All magnesium atoms have 12 protons in the nucleus, and stable magnesium is usually referred to as MG-24, which contains 12 neutrons。The previous lightest, magnesium-19, had seven neutrons。To create a lighter version of magnesium-18, in the latest study, scientists used a cyclotron at Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory to accelerate a beam of more stable magnesium-24 nuclei to about half the speed of light and shoot it into a metal-foil target made of the element beryllium。

      This process creates a bunch of isotopes lighter than magnesium-24, from which the scientists picked out a relatively unstable magnesium-20 (which decays in 1/10th of a second) and collided it with a beryllium target about 30 meters away, resulting in magnesium-18。But it is extremely unstable, with a lifespan of less than 1/6 of a second, and therefore exists in the form of a bare nucleus。

      The researchers noted that the resulting magnesium-18 would not leave the beryllium target and would decay inside the target。Although they could not examine the isotope directly, they could describe its decay: magnesium-18 first ejected two protons to neon-16, then two more to oxygen-14。By analyzing the protons and oxygen escaping the target, the team could infer the properties of magnesium-18。

      The researchers say that while they can't measure it directly, they can learn more about how elements form。And, by using particle accelerators to make increasingly exotic isotopes, they can push the limits of their models to explain how all atomic nuclei form and stay together, which in turn helps predict what happens within the extreme environments of the universe。