Chinese researchers have created the lightest type of uranium known to science. The new isotope, uranium-214, can expand scientific knowledge of the processes and phenomena that accompany radioactive decay.
A new isotope of uranium for science, uranium-214 is a variant of the element with thirty more neutrons than protons. Neutrons have mass, so uranium-214 is much lighter than uranium-235 or other known isotopes used in the nuclear power industry.
Not only is uranium-214 lighter than other isotopes of the element, but it also exhibits special decay behavior. By observing the new isotope, scientists can better understand the intricacies of radioactive decay, and in particular, better study alpha decay, in which the nucleus of an atom loses alpha particles consisting of two neutrons and two protons.
Experts from the Lanzhou Heavy Ion Research Center managed to obtain the new uranium isotope. Scientists directed an argon beam at a tungsten target placed in a machine with a gas-filled recoil separator. By exposing the target with a laser, the scientists were able to effectively add protons and neutrons to the material, transforming it into a new uranium isotope. Uranium-214 turned out to be very unstable – its half-life was only half a millisecond, but that was enough time for laboratory study of the isotope.