MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Is it possible to actually make an atom?

Date: Thu Aug 5 02:29:51 1999
Posted By: Michael Kay, Staff, Chem, Haz. Mat Mgmt, Health Physics, Nuclear Science, AMBRY, Inc
Area of science: Physics
ID: 932042108.Ph

This is a very difficult question to answer because the answer is both yes 
and no. If you mean from "first principles" by combining enough protons, 
neutrons and electrons to make an atom, the answer is no except for slow 
neutron capture by Hydrogen to form Deuterium (hydrogen of atomic weight 
about 2 with one proton, one neutron, and one electron). For all other 
atoms, the difficulty of making a simultaneous multi-particle collision 
that will "stick together" is so great that the probability of, say 2 
hydrogen nuclei (2 protons) and two neutrons (where to get these is a 
problem except in a reactor) coming together to from a helium (He-4) atom 
is essentially zero.

Now, on the other hand, if you mean can an atom that doesn't exist in 
nature be created, the answer is yes. There is a series of transuranic 
elements (elements heavier than uranium) that have been created by 
bombarding one atom with another. Recently scientists created isotopes of 
atomic number 116 and 117. These are superheavy elements made in huge 
accelerators. This method will work to form many radioactive nuclides, such 
as Iodine-123 used in nuclear medicine and research. A suitable target is 
bombarded with a particle (proton, deuteron, triton, He-3, He-4, and on up 
to even Ca-48). The resulting product may be very unstable and decay with a 
very short half life, or it may have a half life long enough to make a 
useful quantity for research or medical diagnosis (nuclear medical 
imaging). These are very energy intensive processes, and require very large 
physical facilities, such as high energy "atom smashers" many kilometers in 
diameter. As a note, it is possible to turn lead into gold through this 
process, but the cost is so great that it costs more than buying gold on 
the market.

Either way, I hope this helps to answer your question.

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