Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Elemental Creationism

Introduction - Oct 21 4:42PM

Dr. Syphers,

Hello. My Name is Josh, and I am a Junior at [...] High School. I'm currently taking physics to better prepare me for my hoped major in college. I plan to major in Atmospheric Science, and minor in Music and Theater. I find this an interesting pairing, as do most others. I am musically and theaterically inclined. I enjoy the sciences and maths, but not English.

Whats it like working with a Partical Accelerator? It sounds quite interesting.

Re: Introduction - Oct 25 12:29AM

Hi Josh,

I think it's great that you have a very diverse set of interests. You'll find that whatever you do in life you can draw from all of them. Keep it up!

Working on particle accelerators is really a lot of fun for me. I get to work on state-of-the-art equipment, tour the world, write papers (and books sometimes) and give talks, work with some of the best people on the planet -- including lots of students and younger scientists. I think it's a job that's hard to beat.

What are you guys studying in physics right now?

-Mike

Re: Re: Introduction - Oct 29 1:32PM

We have just transitioned from forces to energy, definately the easiest of the units we have covered so far. I rather enjoy the class, and all the labs that we do in it. I guess I should with my career choice.

It would seem that your job entails alot of chemistry as of physics. This is interesting, especially when it comes to creating new elements. How do the accelerators distribute the energy created from the collision of the heavy elements? Do you use both fission and fusion when you combind the atoms? I would say fusion, but I guess that both are plausible. Fission would result in two smaller elements than what you would want, so I guess I answered my own question. Anyway thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

~Josh

Re: Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 01 12:22AM

Hi Josh,

Some might say that Chemistry is just a sub-set of Physics; in fact you can take courses in "Physical Chemistry" in college. So, yes, there is a lot of overlap. But, when we create new elements with the accelerators, we just get one or a few atoms at a time; not enough to stock up a chemistry lab, I guess…

And thanks for answering your question for me. ;-)

Cheers,
-Mike

Re: Re: Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 01 6:04PM

I would not have guessed that you only gain a few atoms at a time. I would have guessed from the size of the machine you get a good number of them. Have you actually created a new element yet? Now what are Rare Isotope Beams? I remember what an Isotope is, from my chemistry class last semester, but would the beams be of energy from the Isotope? It sounds rather interesting.

~Josh

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 02 12:26AM

Hi Josh,

I may have over stated that fact. Indeed, many of the experiments here actually do detect individual particles, one at a time, which is what I meant by my statement. But, "a time" could be a very small fraction of a second, and thus there can be many -- sometimes thousands or more -- every second. So, it's all kind of relative.

What we do at our facility here is take atoms -- either from a gas, or by heating up a solid until it emits atoms that can be captured -- and then we strip away some of the electrons by applying a high voltage to the gas. That yields an atom which has more positive charges than negative -- an ion. Since it has a net charge, it can be accelerated using other voltages, giving this ion kinetic energy. We keep doing this until the ion has been accelerated through millions of volts of electric potential. (You'll probably learn more about electricity and voltage, etc, later in the school year.) Anyway, charges can be accelerated by electric fields, so that's how we get very heavy atoms up to very high speed -- that's where their kinetic energy comes from. Then, we collide these high-speed atoms into metal targets (typically) so that they can interact with the atoms in the targets, and sometimes the two nuclei stick and make even heavier atoms and interesting isotopes.

I haven't been here at MSU all that long, so I'm not sure if they have actually discovered a brand new element; but we have been the first to discover various isotopes of already known elements, and we have the best complex in the nation for studying rare elements and isotopes in great detail.

Cheers,
-Mike

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 09 1:12PM

Dr. Syphers,

I thank you for all the help you have gave me. It sounds like you have quite the job, and your work has piqued my interest. Again on the behalf of my partners and myself, I would like to thank you for all the information that you have provided us.

Many thanks,

Josh

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