|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
In the absence of isotopes, the universe might not exist as we know it (a large volume of vacuum studded with large numbers of stars and other debris [such as planets and dust clouds]), depending on how the absence of neutron interactions would have affected the production of elements in the earliest phases of the Big Bang (neutron interactions help build heavier elements from lighter elements...the addition of a neutron to a light element results in, by definition, another isotope of the same element). If a universe similar to our own would exist in the absence of isotopes, it would still be a very different place than the one we know and love. The carbon cycle in the sun, for instance, (and all other stars, of course) requires both carbon 12 and carbon 13 to function. In the absence of these two isotopes, the sun would be a very different object (which, of course, has implications for the earth). For another example, our bodies require water in the form of hydrogen(1) dioxide. We cannot live long with large quantities of hydrogen(2) dioxide (deuterium dioxide, or heavy water), because the chemical rate constants which determine how water (etc.) is distributed in our bodies are based on "normal" water. Therefore, if only one isotope of hydrogen existed, and the "chosen" isotope was deuterium, life (if it existed in this very different universe) would be very different as well. However, if we begin with the universe as it is, AND if we ignore the problem with the carbon cycle, AND we could pick-and-choose the isotopes which we are most interested in and discard the others, then the world might not be so different. Right now I can't think of a REQUIREMENT for deuterium or tritium to exist, in order for us to live long and (fairly?) healthy lives. However, science would be very different and much more ignorant (isotopic dating techniques, such as carbon, uranium, etc. would not exist), medicine wouldn't be as advanced (diagnostic [tracer] and theraputic radionuclides would be much rarer), and, worse of all, we health physicists would be out of a job fairly quickly :) Great question! Keep that curiosity flowing! ron
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