Wednesday, May 26, 2010

TTU Physicists Help Uncover ‘Magic’ Nature Of Tin

A team of nuclear physicists with Tennessee Tech University connections is the first to explore and confirm the “magic” nature of a short-lived isotope of tin. Their results are published in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Nature. Scientists have been working in recent years with elements known to have a “magic” number of protons and neutrons. But many isotopes decay so rapidly that their nature can’t be measured readily. So by experimenting with closely related isotopes, researchers hope to learn more about how atoms work. In short, they want to understand nuclear explosions without actually doing them. Officials say the scientists were able to study the “magic” qualities of Tin-132 (an isotope) by measuring characteristics on a neighboring isotope, Tin-133. TTU physics professor Raymond Kozub, who also works with Oak Ridge National Lab, says the experiment he helped conduct had been planned by a number of facilities around the world.

“We just had the opportunity to do it before everybody else,” he says.

Physics professor John F. Shriner Jr. of TTU is also a co-author, as are former TTU undergraduates D.W. Bardayan and B.H. Moazen, as well as former TTU faculty member C. D. Nesaraja. The experiment was conducted at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge, currently the only facility in the world with the necessary combination of equipment and expertise. Among Kozub’s many roles in the work was to design and develop experimental tools and techniques, set up the equipment and unique detectors, run the experiment, and analyze and interpret the data including theoretical calculations. According to a press release from Nature, the experiment’s results confirm the successful shell model of nuclear structure and will help to predict the properties of more exotic nuclei such as those involved in the synthesis of the heaviest elements.