St Peter's School
Dr Marina Petri of the University of York has been explaining the remarkable importance of exotic nuclei, in a public lecture at St Peter’s.
After dismissing a few common misconceptions about nuclear physics, Dr Petri raced through the history of atomic study, covering Democritus, who coined the term ‘atomos’, meaning indivisible; Rutherford, who defined atoms as they are commonly understood; and now, when scientists are able to modify atoms in ways previously thought impossible.
Dr Petri’s research focuses on examining isotopes, atoms of an element with added or subtracted neutrons in their nuclei with varying rates of decay. Dr Petri explained that these microscopic nuclei, 0.000000000000001m in size, existing in some cases for less than imperceptible fractions of a second, have an incredibly fleeting but important role in the cosmos.
Studying exotic nuclei provides scientists with explanations as to why the Big Bang created a scarcity of some elements and an abundance of others, and the possibility of stabilising these exotic nuclei could well revolutionise our fundamental understanding of the universe.
The audience provided some stimulating questions on the limitations of strong force, which holds nuclei together, the practicalities of using particle accelerators and the theory of ‘magic numbers’ in exotic nuclei.
Andy Parr, Head of Science Outreach, said: “Dr Petri has brought us up to speed with some of the most incredibly detailed and complex science imaginable in a superbly comprehensible and engaging manner. The field of exotic nuclei is a really fascinating one, which I’m sure will have sparked much curiosity amongst the young physicists in the audience. Many thanks to Dr Petri for sharing her experience and enthusiasm with us all.”