Physicists from the ISOLDE project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the first time measured the properties of a short-lived molecule of fluorine and radium, and also studied its structure. The description of the work was published by the scientific journal Nature.
Scientists know short-lived molecules, the existence of which is measured in fractions of a nanosecond. Among them are both very heavy elements, such as plutonium, and relatively light substances, such as technetium.
The radioactive nuclei of such molecules are of interest to scientists not only because they can be used in practice. Physicists believe that they can be used to study the internal structure of atomic shells and test various principles of the Standard Model – a theory that describes most of the interactions of all elementary particles known to science now.
“Previously, we had no data on how the energy levels in such molecules are arranged. In fact, we needed to find a needle in a huge dark room hundreds of meters long and wide. Now we have found this needle, thanks to which we can learn about its properties and “play” with it”.
One of the authors of the study, associate professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ronald Garcia-Ruiz.
Garcia-Ruiz and his colleagues learned how to create large quantities of unstable radioactive molecules and measure their properties. Scientists conducted these experiments on the ISOLDE accelerator, which was created in 1964 at CERN in order to create various radioactive isotopes and elements that do not exist in nature, as well as to study their properties.
During the study, scientists collided various isotopes of radium, starting with radium-223 and ending with radium-228, with tetrafluoromethane – a compound of carbon and four fluorine atoms. As a result, ionized molecules of radium fluoride (RaF) were formed, which were immediately neutralized by sodium vapor.
Scientists passed a beam of laser beams through a cloud of radium fluoride, which simultaneously cooled these molecules, re-ionized them, and allowed researchers to study how their electronic shells are arranged by changing the wavelength of the lasers. This made it possible to study in detail their properties and understand how their electronic covers are arranged.