Neutron Sponge

Scientists have discovered a type of zirconium that has a high affinity towards subatomic particles.

During an experiment, a team of radiochemists led by Jennifer Shusterman discovered that a type of zirconium labeled as zirconium-88 had the ability to absorb neutrons. This particular type of zirconium is different from other types because of the number of neutrons it contains. A typical type of zirconium contains around 50 neutrons, while zirconium-88 always contains less than that, about 48.

When they hit the zirconium-88 with radiation, there was a high chance it might absorb a neutron into its nucleus. The irradiation of this element led to its transformation into another isotope, namely zirconium-89. And this reaction was as much as 85,000 times more likely to occur than scientists previously believed.

This is the highest probability for the capture of neutrons recorded in the past 70 years. There is just one other isotope with similar properties, and that is the xenon-135 isotope. And so far, it is still better at capturing neutrons. Different versions of zirconium are much less likely to absorb another neutron that zirconium-88. In fact, they are around a million times less likely to do so, maybe even less than that.

The great thing about these kinds of isotopes is that they can be used to control nuclear reactors by taking in loose neutrons. This then slows the rate of the reactions within that particular atomic reactor. Unfortunately, more testing is needed to determine whether zirconium-88 is capable of doing something like that.

Scientists are yet to determine the reason why some isotopes possess a higher affinity for neutrons than others. A project is currently in place for scientists to test and determine the properties of other isotopes. There is a high chance more isotopes might showcase even more useful abilities.

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