The 'Magic' of Tin

August 6, 2010, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Credit: Oak Ridge Associated Universities Kate Jones, former Rutgers postdoctoral researcher, now assistant professor at the University of Tennessee

( -- The metal tin lacks the value and prestige of gold, silver, and platinum -- but to nuclear physicists, tin is magic.

In the journal Nature, Rutgers physicists recently reported studies on tin that add knowledge to a concept known as magic numbers while perhaps helping scientists to explain how heavy elements are made in exploding stars.

Their research methods could also help other scientists and engineers develop next-generation nuclear reactors and gather in case rogue states or terrorists ever deploy nuclear weapons.

Physicists who study the nuclei of atoms - the dense cluster of protons and at the atom’s center - apply the “magic” moniker to elements with a certain number of protons or combination of protons and neutrons. At these numbers - 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126 - the protons and neutrons are tightly bound together, giving many “magic” elements a high degree of stability in their nuclei.

Articulated by Maria Goeppert-Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen during the 1940s, the concept was part of their nuclear shell model that earned them the Nobel Prize in physics in 1963. The concept is akin to such as helium and neon, which are stable and don’t react with other elements because their numbers of electrons fill orbital shells.

Professor Jolie Cizewski and postdoctoral researcher Kate Jones, now an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, wanted to boost the scientific community’s knowledge of magic numbers by studying an isotope of tin that is, in fact, doubly magic - with 50 protons and 82 neutrons. Isotopes are different atomic forms of the same element, with the same number of but different numbers of neutrons.

Unlike other magic nuclei that are stable, however, this isotope of tin is fleeting. Its half-life, or the time it takes for half the material to radioactively decay, is 40 seconds. That’s far too brief to conduct many direct studies of its nuclear properties.

Working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility, Jones and Cizewski created this short-lived but magic isotope of tin and immediately modified it by adding a single neutron - converting it from tin-132 (the isotope with 82 neutrons) to tin-133 (the isotope with 83 neutrons). By examining properties of an ejected particle in the course of producing tin-133, they could deduce properties of the doubly-magic isotope of tin that couldn’t be studied directly.

Using funding from a 2003 Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration grant, Cizewski and her collaborators developed the technique that Jones applied to this study.

“The properties we’re studying in our experiment have parallels to the formation of elements heavier than iron in stars,” Cizewski said. “This form of may be formed in supernova explosions or collisions of neutron stars, and lies along the path to forming heavier elements.”

The knowledge gained using this neutron transfer process for research could also help investigators if rogue states or terrorists ever fabricate and detonate a nuclear weapon. It could help scientists read a bomb’s nuclear fission products like a fingerprint that could lead investigators to the suspected bomb builder.

Explore further: Radioactive isotope of tin confirmed to have doubly magic nucleus

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3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2010
sad that researchers have to frame their research in terms of defense agenda to get funding for basic science research. this has nothing to do with fingerprinting nuclear bombs, and should one go off somewhere, it will be obvious who did it.
3.8 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2010
Sad, perhaps, but it helped create what the tool is you used to post your comment! Do you want that to go away?
2 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2010
At least the church is not currently torching the researchers as witches. Oh, the good ole daze. Used to be that if you couldn't see it, it didn't exist, unless it was THE TRUE god.
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2010
and no one here was upset that the properties they are studing are not mentioned at all??

Oh this element has a magic number isotope and we are shooting nuetrons at it. ??? and this effects what specific property...??? this helps you understand why these islands of stability exist , no.. then why are you doing this again... shooting nuetrons at it.. i got that part but what did you learn??

oh wait if you watch the video there is actually some substanence ... but the author of the article didn't know how to summerize it...
not rated yet Aug 06, 2010
Since the electron shell concept works pretty good in describing the nucleus could it be possible that the strong force is really just a positive electromagnetic force? What if the neutrons are located in between the protons shielding the protons from each other's repulsive force while at the same time the positive coulomb force created by the protons surrounds the nucleus keeping the protons from escaping? This concept could explain several mysteries about the nucleus, one is why there is an ever increasing need for more neutrons to stabilize a nucleus as the number of protons is increased. A two dimensional separation problem becomes a three dimensional separation problem. Another is why it is so much easier to dislodge a neutron than a proton from a nucleus. The strong positive coulomb force would not keep the neutrons from escaping, only the protons.
not rated yet Aug 07, 2010
seems the article did not make clear where isotopic resonance imaging and formation of rare tin-133 leads to quantum spectrometric analysis of bombs and terror threats, maybe a sliver of information missing inbetween
Aug 07, 2010
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2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2010
Sad, perhaps, but it helped create what the tool is you used to post your comment! Do you want that to go away?

No, in fact, I'd prefer that each and every grant include its possible connection to 'the bomb' , no matter how tenuous. Ya, funding research for dyslexia *could* relate to how 'dyslexic terrorists might design a nuclear bomb' .. just to get things rollin'

not rated yet Aug 08, 2010
It sounds neat and would sound even better if some details had been written out. Must be my week for lack of info.
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2010
The unusually high nuclear stability of doubly-magic Tin-132, containing 50 protons and 82 neutrons, may be responsible in part for the high abundance of Xenon-132, its stable end product.

See: Kuroda, P. K.: 1960, “Nuclear fission in the early history of the Earth”, Nature 187, 36-38.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
not rated yet Aug 12, 2010
Sad, perhaps, but it helped create what the tool is you used to post your comment! Do you want that to go away?

No, in fact, I'd prefer that each and every grant include its possible connection to 'the bomb' , no matter how tenuous. Ya, funding research for dyslexia *could* relate to how 'dyslexic terrorists might design a nuclear bomb' .. just to get things rollin'

Would that not be a "realcun bmob'?

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