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Atomic Weight Not So Constant 147

Posted by kdawson
from the thulium-and-thalium dept.
DangerousBeauty writes "Yahoo has a Canadian Press story up about new changes to the periodic table of elements concerning the weights of specific elements — it seems that the weights fluctuate based on where they are found in nature. Quoting: '"People are probably comfortable with having a single value for the atomic weight, but that is not the reality for our natural world," says University of Calgary associate professor Michael Wieser.' He is is secretary of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry's Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Weights."
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Atomic Weight Not So Constant

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  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @06:30AM (#34558632)
    Link to actual article is:
    link [iupac.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @06:36AM (#34558680)

    The scientific paper can be found here [doi.org].

    In Section 1.1 the weight is defined as the weighted mean over all the isotopes. Caesium 135 still has atomic mass 134.9059770(11) and caesium 137 still has mass 136.9070895(5); the way in which the relative abundances of isotopes is measured - that is all.

  • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @06:36AM (#34558682)

    They're recalculating the average atomic weight, the one on the periodic table, based on the abundances of the different isotopes in nature. If you're trying to calculate the mass of, say, 300,000 molecules of something, you use the average atomic weight and don't try to figure out what isotope each atom is.

  • by chichilalescu (1647065) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @06:39AM (#34558700) Homepage Journal

    Yes. thank you for that link. Anybody with minimal knowledge of how atomic weights are computed (i.e. a weighted average of the atomic masses of the various isotopes) can guess that if the concentrations of isotopes are different in different samples, the "atomic weight" will be different.
    I went and read the famous abstract anyway. quote: "This fundamental change in the presentation of the atomic weights represents an important advance in our knowledge of the natural world and underscores the significance and contributions of chemistry to the well-being of humankind in the International Year of Chemistry 2011."
    This article is just about the results of some measurements. ok, useful measurements, but NOT an important advance in our knowledge of the natural world.

  • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Marcika (1003625) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @06:56AM (#34558792)

    What I do not get is, of course weight will be different in nature. Weight is dependant on acceleration due to gravity and mass. An atom would weigh more on Earth than it would on the moon.

    I think these chemists mean 'atomic mass'? I'm an engineer so correct me if I'm wrong.

    Atomic weight is a dimensionless quantity (ratio of the average mass of atoms of an element to 1/12 of the mass of an atom of carbon-12).

    I think the convention in chemistry is to call the absolute mass of an isotope (in kg or whatever) "atomic mass", and to call its relative mass (dimensionless) "atomic weight".

  • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

    by PeterKraus (1244558) <peter.kraus@member.fsf.org> on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @07:25AM (#34558938) Homepage

    Atomic mass is the precise mass of a given isotope, in AMU (symbol u) or Daltons (Da), where 1u = 1Da = 1/12 of a mass of one C12 atom.

    Atomic weight, or relative atomic mass, is the abundancy-weighted average of atomic masses of isotopes. I'm not sure about the unit, but I guess using u or Da might not be to far off.

    For general purposes we use molar mass (or specifically relative molar mass), which is the mass of a mole of atoms (or molecules or whatever). In case of atoms, it's the atomic weight times avogadro constant. Unit g/mol, (the biochemists tend to use Daltons, 1 Da = 1g/mol, confuzzlingly enough).

    IAACh, but I'd guess the folk in IUPAC would get it right, so if I'm contradicting them, I'm wrong.

  • by Interoperable (1651953) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @07:51AM (#34559092)

    Thanks. The article makes it clear that the major change here is that the way in which atomic weights will be presented is changing. It's not just that they're being updated to reflect a more complete measurement, it's that atomic weights will now be represented as a range of possible values rather than a single value. It's not every day that the way in which information is presented in the periodic table changes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @12:46PM (#34562254)

    But the range of possible values for the atomic weight is already represented by the number of decimal places displayed. For example, compare the the number of decimal places for F (18.9984032) and Pb (207.2).

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @12:51PM (#34562350) Journal

    ...are that it's proved to be a completely inappropriate way of measuring the age of a sample, particularly for older samples.

    In fact for any sample over 2000 years old the errors are absolute.

    So in fact, this is big, big news.

    I'd be curious to see where it's been "proved" to be an inappropriate way of age measuring, since carbon-14 dating closely correlates with tree ring data [wikipedia.org] out to 26,000 years back, using the INTCAL04 data group, which is internationally recognized as valid, and likewise it correlates well with deep ocean sediments, coral, cave rock formations, and other sources [wikipedia.org], all of which give similar age data to radiocarbon dating, which is currently using the INTCAL09 data for correction, that is internationally recognized as valid out to 50,000 years [qub.ac.uk]. So, if there's a problem with radiocarbon dating, the same problem is also affecting how fast sediments accumulate, coral grow, and stalactites form, and I've never heard of anyone suggesting anything that can affect all those, at the same time, and alter them all in a proportional manner. If you've any suggestions for something that could do that, I'd love to hear about it.

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