Pear-Shaped Atomic Nuclei DiscoveredCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: May 10, 2013 09:04AM
A fun physics fact is that it is very likely than any image you have been shown of an atom is wrong. The reason these incorrect images are still being used is because they are effective teaching tools when discussing the placement of electrons within an atom. New experiments done by researchers at the University of Michigan and led by researchers at the University of Liverpool however have found that the structure of some atomic nuclei is more complicated than previously thought, but this is actually a good thing.
When asked to imagine the nucleus of an atom, many of you will likely picture a single sphere or a number of spheres pressed together, representing protons and neutrons. The physics that describe nuclei however, tell us that many atoms have elliptical nuclei, not spherical, and that some have a very unusual pear shape, which the researchers have now observed. By smashing beams of radon and radium isotopes into metal foils at CERN, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the nuclei of these atoms have an asymmetrical pear shape, or vibrate around it, which may have implications beyond nuclear physics.
After the Big Bang, an asymmetry in Nature emerged as particles of matter dominated those of antimatter, and physicists have been trying to discover why for decades. One possible explanation could be found by examining the asymmetry of these nuclei, as it may relate to a fifth fundamental force of Nature, which has not been observed before.