Scientists discover new type of uranium isotope with a half-life of 40 minutes

Uranium-241 is an extremely radioactive element with 92 protons and 149 neutrons.
Kavita Verma
Representational image of uranium.
Representational image of uranium.


According to a report, scientists have discovered and produced a new type of uranium isotope, known as uranium-241.

This is the first time a new neutron-rich isotope of uranium has been discovered since 1979, and it was identified by researchers at the High-energy Accelerator Research Organization located in Japan. Uranium-241 is an extremely radioactive element with 92 protons and 149 neutrons, and it is predicted to have a brief half-life of around 40 minutes. 

Uranium, one of the most radioactive elements, is a member of the actinide series, which includes all elements with atomic numbers between 89 and 103. Uranium-241 is known as a neutron-rich isotope because it has more neutrons than is typical for uranium isotopes. This discovery has significant implications for the study of nuclear and astrophysics, as well as our understanding of heavy elements' behavior and stability.

Discovery and creation of uranium-241

The researchers utilized a technique called multinucleon transfer to create uranium-241 by firing uranium-238 at platinum-198 nuclei using Japan's RIKEN accelerator. The resulting nuclei were observed to determine their mass as they traveled a certain distance through a medium. This process led to the creation of 18 new isotopes with between 143 and 150 neutrons.

The discovery of uranium-241 illustrates the capabilities of modern particle accelerators and experimental methods in advancing scientific knowledge and exploration. The collision of atomic nuclei at high speeds and energies enables the creation and study of short-lived and exotic isotopes that were previously unobservable and unobtainable.

Uranium-241 and its half-life

Uranium-241 is highly radioactive, but its creation in extremely small numbers means that it is not likely to have significant practical or scientific applications. The half-life of the new isotope has not been measured yet, but theoretical predictions suggest that it may last only around 40 minutes before decaying into other elements. Half-life refers to the time taken for half the material to decay. 

While uranium-241 may not have immediate practical or commercial uses, its discovery provides knowledge and techniques that have potential applications in the development of new materials, technologies, and energy sources. For example, the ability to generate and analyze new isotopes can improve our understanding of nuclear waste management, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear forensics.

Despite its limited usefulness, the discovery of uranium-241 is notable because it is the first new neutron-rich isotope of uranium to be found in more than four decades. The researchers intend to continue studying the isotopes they created to gain further insights into the behavior of heavy elements. The results have been published in the journal Physical review letters.

Study abstract:

The new isotope 241U was synthesized and systematic atomic mass measurements of nineteen neutron-rich Pa-Pu isotopes were performed in the multinucleon transfer reactions of the 238U+198Ptsystem at the KISS facility. The present experimental results demonstrate the crucial role of the multinucleon transfer reactions for accessing unexplored neutron-rich actinide isotopes toward the N=152 shell gap in this region of nuclides.

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