As reported in the journal Nature, important conclusions about the nature of the forces between the protons and neutrons in nuclei can be drawn by comparing the experimental results and new theoretical values. The difficult measurements were made possible by an extension to the precision experiment ISOLTRAP at the European research centre CERN.
Ion ping pong.
Figure: Frank Wienholtz
Schematic Overview of the new ISOLTRAP component for multi-reflection time-of-flight mass spectrometry. The ions are reflected back and forth between the “mirrors” whereby the different ion species are separated. Figure: Frank Wienholtz
The new component, contributed by physicists from the University of Greifswald, reflects ions back and forth like in a ping pong game. Using this method the team was the first to determine the masses of the artificially produced isotopes calcium-53 and calcium-54.These isotopes play a key role in basic research in nuclear physics. The measurements confirm predictions by theorists from the Technical University of Darmstadt that also account for three-body forces.
However, there is another challenge as the ions of interest are in general generated only together with “contaminations”, i.e. particles of similar masses, so-called isobars. Under these conditions Penning ion traps, up to now the micro scales of choice, reach their limits. Multi-reflection time-of-flight mass spectrometers offer an alternative. Such an instrument was provided by the team from the University of Greifswald and installed as part of the ISOLTRAP setup.
After a recent application as a high-resolution mass separator for Penning-trap investigations (see idw press release “Laboratory Mass Measurement deepens Insight into Neutron Star Crusts“ http://idw-online.de/en/news516628) the new device was successfully used to obtain the first mass measurements of calcium-53 and calcium-54.
The principle of time-of-flight mass spectrometry is rather simple: All ions experience the same force and are therefore accelerated to different velocities corresponding to their masses. Thus, after crossing a drift section they reach a detector one after the other – the light ones first and the heavier later. The result is a time-of-flight mass spectrum. Typical drift sections have a length of about a meter. But there is a trick: By use of an “ion mirror” the particles can be reflected and if a second mirror is added drift sections of several kilometres in length can be folded to table-top dimensions.
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