Radiochemistry of Tin

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The samples are then sent to the participating laboratories for analysis.

10 questions about radiochemistry

About three years ago, Livermore nuclear chemists, led by Kevin Roberts, began designing more realistic debris to further challenge their fellow chemists and modelers. A fully realistic sample would include a carefully curated selection of fuels, fission products, and activation products embedded in a matrix of dirt and debris.

Using a mix of different fuels and reaction energies will likely achieve the most realistic results. Laboratory researchers have access to isotopes from past experiments and can generate new materials using accelerators, test reactors, and other sources. Samples must be created and shipped promptly so that exercise participants can measure the more ephemeral products. In fact, logistics and handling are no small part of the research project. Roberts notes that at first, his group adopted radiochemical methods from the underground test program because those approaches were established and effective.

Now, the researchers want to modernize the techniques so they can prepare testing materials more efficiently and safely. We can, and we couple it with the weapons knowledge here. The substance is then combined with fuels irradiated at a test facility at the Nevada National Security Site, and the resulting samples are characterized.

The Laboratory team also is investigating the feasibility of using additive manufacturing to create samples that can be precisely reproduced, which would aid in data intercomparison. By engaging in readiness exercises and sample development, Livermore researchers are helping to establish a significant national capability and fostering stronger partnerships with forensics specialists at other laboratories and with sponsors in the Departments of Defense and Energy.

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Some of these materials are created in facilities such as CAMS. Part of our job is stewardship of these materials because no one knows when they will be produced in experimentally usable quantities again. He also crafts targets for experiments to study nuclear reactions, most of which are relevant to both stockpile stewardship and fundamental science research. In addition, the fragile foils often require uranium or plutonium on both sides instead of the standard one side.

To limit handling, Henderson developed an apparatus that electroplates both sides of the foils simultaneously. Having an in-house capability to supply quality-tested radioactive sources and targets has been a boon for Livermore researchers. In particular, the electroplating technique and the surface-mapping tool have increased the consistency of radiochemistry experiments.

Examining the transactinides, elements and above, is especially challenging. This relativistic effect may become more extreme for the heavier transactinides, making their characteristics and behavior more difficult to predict. Six of the newest and heaviest transactinide elements were discovered by Livermore researchers in collaboration with colleagues at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions FLNR in Russia.

See the box below. The question that intrigues Lawrence scholar John Despotopulos is whether the newest elements belong where they are currently situated. Wet-chemistry experiments, which are more complicated than gas-phase studies, would provide more insight into where the element fits in the periodic table. Despotopulos and colleagues at Livermore and UNLV are thus devising efficient and precise wet-chemistry methods to isolate the two elements.

To evaluate these methods, they are using surrogates—lighter elements with putatively similar properties to the transactinides and more atoms available for study. A short nuclear lifetime and low production rate prevent flerovium from reaching chemical equilibrium in its environment. The Livermore and UNLV collaborators are working with carrier-free isotopes to more accurately replicate that behavior in the surrogates. In a carrier-free isotope, all the atoms of a given element consist of the same radioisotope; no stable isotopes are present.

Carrier-free isotopes of bismuth and lead are isolated from samples of uranium, while antimony and tin are created at CAMS.

The flerovium surrogates, lead and tin, are then mixed together, as are the element surrogates, bismuth and antimony. The research team then uses extraction chromatography to separate the desired isotopes. For this technique, a resin coated with an extractant is affixed inside a glass column along with a small amount of the sample. Page i Share Cite.

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