Manipal Varsity researchers along with global team discover four new isotopes

September 15, 2015

Researchers from the Manipal Centre of Natural Sciences at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka, with collaborators from GSI, Germany, have succeeded in discovering four new atomic nuclei to be added to the Chart of the Nuclides. This study was carried out under the ambit of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education-GSI-Giessen collaboration which focuses on developing new methods of synthesis for the super heavy elements. The newly discovered, exotic nuclei are one isotope each of the heavy elements berkelium and neptunium and two isotopes of the element americium.

 Mr. H. M. Devaraja a PhD student at MCNS, Manipal Academy of Higher Education participated in experimental work along with an international team of researchers at GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung.  Other participants included scientists from the Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA, and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia. The results are published in Physics Letters B. “It was my dream to be able to discover something during my PhD,” Devaraja said and added: “Am grateful to Manipal Centre for Natural Sciences, Manipal Academy of Higher Education all involved in my research for making it possible”.

Manipal Academy of Higher Education Vice Chancellor Dr. H. Vinod Bhat congratulated the team and said “I am delighted that Manipal Academy of Higher Education has been an integral part of this most fundamental and ground breaking work which was specifically taken up as part of our on-going collaborations. Apart from the discoveries themselves, first proof of the new technique for the production of these exotic nuclides will pave the way for a new generation of exciting experiments at the frontiers of experimental physics. It is a proud moment indeed for the team and the collaboration. I expect that continuing investigations will uncover many more surprises as our team explores previously unknown areas and extends the Chart of the Nuclides.” 

Prof Gottfried Münzenberg who initiated the Giessen-GSI-Manipal collaboration together with Dr. Mohini Gupta also expressed his happiness about these discoveries. He said “the synthesis of new isotopes in nuclear transfer reactions is a milestone in the search for new methods for SHE synthesis, the principal research goal of our collaboration”. Dr. Mohini Gupta, Director of the Manipal Centre for Natural Sciences said “now that we know this method is viable, interpretation and prediction are two other important aspects of this discovery. A deeper understanding of the underlying physics is in order, accompanied possibly by more surprises”.

When asked about the Manipal Centre for Natural Sciences, Vice Chancellor Bhat replied that it was a one-of-a-kind research destination within a University in the country. “Created as a Centre of Excellence at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, the primary aim is to initiate and facilitate high quality research in the physical and earth sciences including mathematics as well as niche specialisations such as super heavy elements, computational atomic physics and evolutionary biology to name a few. The M. Phil and PhD programs we offer at MCNS are structured to ensure the best learning environment for young researchers in both main stream and niche areas to enhance creativity and independent thought” he added.

To enable the discovery of the new isotopes, scientists used a new, highly sensitive method to create and detect the nuclei and the results of this work constitute the first proof of this new technique. A 300-nanometer-thick foil of curium was bombarded with accelerated calcium nuclei in this experiment. In the collisions studied, the atomic nuclei of the two elements touched, and formed a compound system for an extremely short time. Before the compound system could break apart again, after about a sextillionth of a second, the two nuclei involved exchanged a significant number of their nuclear building-blocks — protons and neutrons – to form various isotopes as the end products.  Researchers examined a vast number of decay products within which the signatures of these new isotopes were found. Atoms that are heavier than uranium are especially interesting in this hunt.

The newly discovered isotopes have fewer neutrons and are lighter than the previously known isotopes of the respective elements. To date, the known Periodic Table comprises over 3,000 isotopes of 114 chemical elements. According to scientific estimates, more than 4,000 additional, undiscovered isotopes should also exist. “By using this method, we have succeeded in generating many different atomic nuclei at once,” says Dr Sophia Heinz who headed the experiment at GSI. “Our results are especially important for the study of super-heavy elements. New isotopes, in particular those of super-heavy elements, which contain an especially large number of neutrons, cannot be made by any other method. Experiments aimed at creating these neutron-rich nuclei are already being prepared.”

The conceptual design of the next generation separator “SuperSHIP” which will be optimized to measure these rare and exotic events through new production methods is also underway at Manipal as part of the continuing collaboration with GSI and Giessen.