Lead from a Roman ship to be used for hunting neutrinos

Apr 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Italy's National Institute of Nuclear Physics, at its laboratories in Gran Sasso, has received 120 lead bricks from an ancient Roman ship that sunk off of the coast of Sardinia 2,000 years ago. The ship's cargo was recovered 20 years ago, thanks to the contribution of the INFN, which at the time received 150 of these bricks. The INFN is now receiving additional bricks to complete the shield for the CUORE experiment, which is being conducted to study extremely rare events involving neutrinos. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The National Laboratories of Gran Sasso (LNGS) of Italy's National Institute of (INFN) has received 120 2,000-year-old lead bricks from the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari in Sardinia. The lead bricks, together with the ship that transported them, had remained in the sea for 2,000 years, which reduced by approximately 100,000 times the albeit very low original radioactivity represented by one of its radionuclides, lead-210. In fact, lead-210 has a half-life of 22 years, so that by now it has practically disappeared in the bricks.

It is precisely this characteristic that makes the lead extremely useful, in that it can be used to perfectly shield experiments of extreme precision, such as those conducted in the underground INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The part of the bricks that is "adorned" with inscriptions will be removed and conserved, whereas the remaining part will be cleaned of incrustations and melted to construct a shield for the international experiment CUORE, a study on , whose discoveries could contribute to the knowledge of this elusive particle and of the evolution of the Universe.

Moreover, the INFN will perform important precise measures on the lead (and possibly on the copper found on the ship), to study the materials used in the Bronze Age.

The lead bricks were made available as the result of a 20-year collaboration involving the INFN, its facilities in Cagliari, and the Archaeological Superintendency of Cagliari, with the support of the General Direction of Antiquity. As part of this collaboration, 20 years ago the INFN contributed 300 million lira for the excavation of the ship and the recovery of its cargo.

The INFN would like to thank the superintendents Drs. Fulvia Lo Schiavo and Marco Minoja, as well as Doctor Donatella Salvi, for their collaboration.

"The commander of that ship would certainly never have imagined that the lead would be used 2,000 years later for something that had to do with the Universe and the stars" - comments INFN President Roberto Petronzio - "History and Science can now speak to one another across the centuries, thanks to the research in High-Energy Physics".

"This lead," - explains Professor Ettore Fiorini - "which is responsible for the CUORE experiment, represents an extremely important material for shielding the apparatuses used to conduct research on rare events - a material that must be totally free of contamination".

Lucia Votano, Director of the INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso, explains that "it's great and unique that the most advanced and innovative technologies must rely on archaeology and the technology of the ancient Romans. The ancient lead recoverd from the bottom of the sea will be essential for protecting the experiment from natural radioactivity, which could obscure the rare process of neutrinoless double beta decay".

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User comments : 7

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Temple
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
Too bad they don't explain how being submerged affected the isotope makeup in the bricks. I would have thought that the half-life of Pb210 would be the same whether it's in salt-water or in the ground.
CaptBarbados
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
Does anyone know if re-smelting the same lead alone affect this state, as in resetting it?
Temple
2 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2010
Does anyone know if re-smelting the same lead alone affect this state, as in resetting it?

No, there is no process by which you can change the isotopic makeup of an element.

You can add a fresh source of Pb-210 or you can wait for it to decay, but you can't do anything to alter the existing atoms (shy of smashing them to smithereens in a particle accelerator).
Temple
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2010
Too bad they don't explain how being submerged affected the isotope makeup in the bricks. I would have thought that the half-life of Pb210 would be the same whether it's in salt-water or in the ground.


Apparently PB-210 is being constantly produced underground (presumably in the same ore from which Pb is mined).

"Lead-210 is produced through in situ decay of articulate 226Ra and its daughter 222Rn rising from sediments and rocks at depth" http://www.agu.or...0115.pdf

As they say "It's great to learn, 'cause knowledge is power!"
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
When will we have to read the NEWS! item about Scapa Flow iron for nuclear detectors?
barakn
1 / 5 (1) May 11, 2010
No, there is no process by which you can change the isotopic makeup of an element.

You can add a fresh source of Pb-210 or you can wait for it to decay, but you can't do anything to alter the existing atoms (shy of smashing them to smithereens in a particle accelerator).

And so the isotopic enrichment of uranium-235 never occurred during the Manhattan Project, an atomic bomb was never developed, the Americans got side-tracked invading the Japanese mainland leaving the Soviet Union free to invade Western Europe and then eventually a weakened United States. The Soviet fear of the free flow of information prevented the development of an internet, and thus Temple never posted about the impossibility of changing the isotopic composition of elements.
Temple
5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2010
...thus Temple never posted about the impossibility of changing the isotopic composition of elements.


I think you're either misunderstanding my point, or you're misunderstanding enrichment processes.

Enrichment is the process whereby you filter out certain isotopes. Nothing you do is actually changing any atoms. You can't do anything to create Uranium-235 (other than wait for it to happen naturally).

When you enrich uranium, you're still left with the same proportion of each isotope, just in separate piles. You're not changing the isotopic makeup of the original element, you're just moving the isotopes around.

http://en.wikiped...paration