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Canada Science

Atomic Disguise Makes Helium Look Like Hydrogen 127

An anonymous reader writes "In a feat of modern-day alchemy, atom tinkerers have fooled hydrogen atoms into accepting a helium atom as one of their own, reports New Scientist. Donald Fleming of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and colleagues managed to disguise a helium atom as a hydrogen atom by replacing one of its orbiting electrons with a muon, which is far heavier than an electron. The camouflaged atom behaves chemically like hydrogen, but has four times the mass of normal hydrogen, allowing predictions for how atomic mass affects reaction rates to be put to the test."
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Atomic Disguise Makes Helium Look Like Hydrogen

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  • by DCFusor ( 1763438 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @01:57PM (#35049566) Homepage
    Is theorized to work with fusible fuels (say deuterium). But muons don't seem to live long enough to make it practical, they take a lot of energy per to make and have very short lives. In essence, they don't live long enough to catalyze enough fusion to pay back the energy of creation at this point.

    So what's interesting is that they were able to do this at all -- either they found a way to extend muon life (unlikely, or that would be the main news here), or they worked insanely fast to get their results before the decay.

  • by Menkhaf ( 627996 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @02:23PM (#35049712)

    I guess it was a joke, but it should be rather simple to determine: if the gas if lighter than the atmosphere you're breathing, your voice will be lighter if you inhale this.

  • Great work at TRIUMF (Score:5, Informative)

    by sackvillian ( 1476885 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @02:52PM (#35049860)
    For those wondering what the experiment entailed:

    Fleming's team shot muons produced at the TRIUMF accelerator in Vancouver into a cloud of helium, molecular hydrogen and ammonia. The helium atoms captured the muons, then pulled hydrogen atoms away from the molecular hydrogen and bonded with them.

    This was all done at TRIUMF, the world's largest cyclotron and by far the best particle accelerator in Canada. Plus, Donald Truhlar (a giant in the field) supported the experimental rate constants with quantum mechanical predictions - very neat stuff indeed!

  • by cnettel ( 836611 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @04:47PM (#35050482)
    The atom has no physical shape. If the p1 orbital occupied by the single electron is similar enough "chemically", the effective radius will also be identical.
  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @11:53PM (#35053222) Journal
    In essence, they don't live long enough to catalyze enough fusion to pay back the energy of creation at this point. That is for free myons!!! As soon as they are bound to an atom core and involved in a chemical bound they live as long as any other particle ... e.g. an electron. Angel

The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side. -- James Baldwin