In the hundred years since modern nuclear physics was born, scientists have managed to observe less than half of the thousands of such rare “isotopes” they expect should exist; the rest are still waiting to be discovered. The reason is that many of them last for only fractions of a second before they change back into more stable forms. These exotic isotopes do not occur naturally — they are forged in violent cosmic processes, including the cataclysmic explosions of stars called supernovae, which are responsible for the synthesis of most of the elements in our world. Here on Earth, the isotopes are produced in laboratory facilities with particle accelerators or in nuclear reactors.
Among the researchers engaged in studying these fleeting rare isotopes and determining their properties are physics Profs. Partha Chowdhury and Christopher “Kim” Lister, co-directors of UMass Lowell’s Radiation Laboratory.
“Our investigation ventures into the ‘terra incognita’ of the varied combinations of neutrons and protons that make up matter in our universe,” says Chowdhury. “Exotic, short-lived and highly unstable atomic nuclei hold the key to understanding how elements are synthesized in stars and to developing next-generation nuclear reactors for producing safe and sustainable energy.”