What is an isotope?
Before we go into the exciting discovery, a little background knowledge about isotopes may help us understand how cool it really is. Different types of elements, such as hydrogen and gold, are defined due to differences in atomic weight, decided by the number of neutrons in their nucleus. These differences in neutrons between each element alter their physical properties, such as density and diffusion rate.
Isotopes are a form of an element with a different number of neutrons than is usually found, though the rest of their structure (protons and electrons) are still the same. For example, regular carbon carries 12 neutrons and the isotope carbon-13 carries 13 neutrons.
A new isotope invented
Scientists, using the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, managed to create the lightest isotope of magnesium to date, magnesium-18. This project was a collaboration of many laboratories, but the leading group resided at Peking University in China.
The study, published in Physical Review Letters, discusses the exact method of how the isotope was created. Complicated processes of high speed particle collisions and interference using other elements took place to manipulate the setup of stable magnesium.
Why is this important?
“One of the big questions I’m interested in is where do the universe’s elements come from,” said Kyle Brown a lead on the study. He continued: “How are these elements made? How do these processes happen?”
This new discovery can’t answer these questions directly at this moment. Although, models can use the information to update their theory closer to the real explanation. This element is too unstable to be found in nature, which is exactly what the researchers were going for. Creating elements that would never occur naturally, may give clues to the cosmic environment in which the world was conceived.
Source study: Physical Review Letters – First Observation of the Four-Proton Unbound Nucleus Mg-18