Tracking the deuterium in raindrops, one molecule at a time

New research led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst refines our understanding of the chemical traces that act as the rain's fingerprint. The work, which appeared recently in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, is crucial ...

Flexible quantum sieve filters the fuel of starship Enterprise

Deuterium, the heavy brother of hydrogen, is considered a promising material of the future because of its wide range of applications—in science, for energy generation, or in the production of pharmaceuticals. However, the ...

Excess deuterium levels found in bones of marine mammals

Using a novel analytical technique developed at KI, the team of scientists led by Roman Zubarev found in seal bones twice as much deuterium as in sea water; extra deuterium cannot come from seals' diet.

'Heavy' hydrogen stabilizes drugs

Researchers at the University of Bonn have presented a method that allows the heavier hydrogen "brother" deuterium to be introduced specifically into many different molecules. The deuterated compounds obtained in this way ...

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Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in 6,420 of hydrogen (~156.25 ppm on an atom basis). Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% (or on a mass basis: 0.0312%) of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope (hydrogen-1 or protium) accounts for more than 99.98%. The abundance of deuterium changes slightly from one kind of natural water to another (see VSMOW).

The nucleus of deuterium, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one neutron, whereas the far more common hydrogen isotope, protium, has no neutron in the nucleus. The deuterium isotope's name is formed from the Greek deuteros meaning "second", to denote the two particles composing the nucleus. Deuterium was discovered and named in 1931 by Harold Urey, earning him a Nobel Prize in 1934 after the discovery of the neutron in 1932 made the structure of deuterium obvious. Soon after deuterium's discovery, Urey and others produced samples of water in which deuterium has been highly concentrated with respect to protium, a substance popularly known as heavy water.

Because deuterium is destroyed in the interiors of stars faster than it is produced, and because other natural processes are thought to produce only an insignificant amount of deuterium, it is presently thought that nearly all deuterium found in nature was produced in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, and that the basic or primordial ratio of hydrogen-1 (protium) to deuterium (about 26 atoms of deuterium per million hydrogen) has its origin from that time. This is the ratio found in the gas giant planets, such as Jupiter. However, different astronomical bodies are found to have different ratios of deuterium to hydrogen-1, and this is thought to be as a result of natural isotope separation processes that occur from solar heating of ices in comets. Like the water-cycle in Earth's weather, such heating processes may enrich deuterium with respect to protium. In fact, the discovery of deuterium/protium ratios in a number of comets very simlar to the mean ratio in Earth's oceans, has led to theories that much of Earth's ocean water has a cometary origin..

Deuterium/protium ratios thus continue to be an active topic of research in both astronomy and climatology.

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