Wed, 08 May 2013 11:45 CDT
© LP Gaffney
Scientists have found some atoms have pear-shaped nuclei, rather than the spherical or football-shaped ones. Here, a representation of the radium-224 nucleus in the x, z plane, with the colors as the y-axis scale.
A few heavy, unstable atoms have pear-shaped nuclei, research suggests.
The lopsided nuclei, described today (May 8) in the journal Nature
, could be good candidates for researchers looking for new types of physics beyond the reigning explanation for the bits of matter that make up the universe (called the Standard Model), said study author Peter Butler, a physicist at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom.
Whereas most atoms have spherical or football-shaped nuclei, atoms with pear-shaped nuclei at their centers have been predicted to exist. But finding them proved difficult. [See Video of the Strange Pear-Shaped Nuclei
To find them, Butler and his colleagues used a particle accelerator called REX-ISOLDE at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, or CERN, in Switzerland to accelerate radioactive ions of radon-220 and radium
-224 until they reached about 10 percent of the speed of light.
"The [Large Hadron Collider
] LHC makes all the big news, but in order to get the particles to high energy it uses a whole chain of low accelerators. What we use is one that is pretty ancient by accelerator standards," Butler said.