Forty-five new radioisotopes found at Japan's heavy-ion accelerator facility
By Rick Martin
June 8, 2010
From RIKEN Research in Japan comes news today that 45 new radioisotopes have been discovered in just four days, more than the world's scientists typically find in an average year.
Now for those of us who are not nuclear scientists, it might require some clarification as to why this is significant. RIKEN's press release explains radioisotopes thusly:
"Radioactive isotopes (RI) or radioisotopes, unstable chemical elements with either more or fewer neutrons than their stable counterparts, open a door onto a world of nuclear physics where standard laws break down and novel phenomena emerge."
RIKEN's Nishina's Center for Accelerator-Based Science is home to the Radioactive Isotope Beam Factory (RIBF), a facility devoted to exploring this field.
Fans of the Large Hadron Collider's particle-smashing violence will be almost equally excited by what goes on at RIBF, as uranium-238 nuclei are fired at beryllium and lead targets at 70% of the speed of light, the resultant collision yielding "an array of exotic radioisotopes believed to play a central role in the origins of elements in our universe".
While endeavors such as these are a little beyond the understanding of most of us regular folks, it reassuring to know that scientists in Japan – and indeed the world over – are making such significant breakthroughs towards better understanding the nature of the universe.