• What are isotopes?

    Andrey Semykin
    Andrey Semykin
    August 14, 2012
    What are isotopes?

    Isotopes are called chemical species that differ in the composition of the nucleus of an atom. Different isotopes have a different number of neutrons in the nucleus. The physical and chemical properties of isotopes are close or coincide, with some exceptions (sometimes, however, it is these exceptions that are very important for practical use). So, what isotopes, I hope, is already clear. Let us now try to figure out how we came up with isotopes, and what benefits this discovery is for us, people far from the heights of science.

    A bit of history

    The existence of isotopes was proved at the beginning of the last century, when it turned out that ionium and radothorium (decay products of uranium and thorium, respectively) have the same chemical properties, while differing in mass of the nucleus. Further attempts to find out the difference between isotopes showed that all these substances have the same X-ray and optical spectrum, but different characteristics of radioactive decay.

    The English scientist Soddy suggested calling such substances isotopes (from Greek words, iso is the same and topos is the place). Some isotopes have their own names, such as the above-mentioned ionium and radio-loci, more often isotopes are indicated by the name of the base element with the addition of a mass number: uranium-235, uranium-238, etc.

    Isotope use

    The most famous (notoriously unfortunate) use of isotopes is nuclear weapons. In order for a radioactive substance (for example, uranium) to become a filling of an atomic bomb, it is necessary to enrich it. By enrichment is meant bringing to the desired percentage the number of different isotopes of uranium. To start a nuclear chain reaction, it is necessary that uranium-235 should be at least 3% of the total mass of the substance, in nature, this ratio is much less.

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