Artificial Transmutation

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The process of converting one element into another by bombarding it with fundamental particles is called artificial transmutation. The very first artificial element produced by the process of artificial transmutation was oxygen. Thus, in simple words, it is the process of transformation of one particular element into another by the making use of artificial means. For getting an element of oxygen, the nucleus of nitrogen was bombarded with an alpha particle. Normally, the element that is produced through the process usually exhibits radioactivity which results in induced radioactivity. The particles that you can use for bombardment are:

α-particle; Proton and Deuteron: 1H3, Neutron 0n1.

Process of Artificial Transmutation

Now, as we read above, the new or artificial element that is produced by the process of artificial transmutation exhibits radioactivity, which results in induced radioactivity. Usually, the particles that are bombarded with the main element are, α-particle; Proton, and Deuteron, Neutron, Alpha particles, deuterons and protons, they all carry nuclei that are positively charged. They are not suitable projectiles because they all repel positively charged nuclei. Neutrons, on the other hand, possess no charge at all, and hence considered the best projectile for the artificial transmutation process. When the main element or the targeted element is bombarded with a neutron the resulting element or product shall depend upon the speed of the neutron with which it is bombarded. The bombardment is slow; the neutrons penetrate into the nucleus of the targeted element. When the bombardment speed is high the neutrons pass through the nucleus. The other name of a slow neutron is the thermal neutron. In producing a nuclear reaction, the slow neutrons are more effective than the high-speed neutrons.

Who Discovered Artificial Transmutation?

Ernest Rutherford was one of the pioneers who discovered artificial transmutation. He discovered the following by exposing the nitrogen atoms to alpha particles. He bombarded the said nitrogen nucleus with the present alpha particles in order to get oxygen. 

\[N_{7}^{14} + He_{2}^{4} \rightarrow O_{8}^{17} + H_{1}^{1}\]

In fact, the first nuclear transmutation was also witnessed and applied to the branch of modern physics by Frederick Soddy. He was working with Rutherford in the year 1901, and they both discovered that radioactive thorium could transform itself into radium. They were excited to witness that the process was transmutation and Soddy worked on it further to apply it to the branch of Physics.

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Some Prominent Examples of Artificial Transmutation

  • When an alpha particle is bombarded with the nucleus of a nitrogen element, oxygen as an artificial element is produced. As a part of transformation one atom of hydrogen is also produced.

  • When an alpha particle is bombarded with the nucleus of an aluminium element, phosphorus as an artificial element is produced. As a part of the transformation, a neutron is produced.

  • When Uranium-28 is bombarded with neutrons, the resultant element is Uranium-239. Uranium-239 is very unstable; therefore, it decays to Neptunium. When it decays it produces beta particles.

Conversion Laws Applied to Nuclear Reactions

While studying artificial transmutation it is necessary to keep a note on “conversion laws” that are applied to a nuclear reaction.

  • The number of nucleons in a nuclear reaction stays the same or is conserved.

  • The mass-energy relation is conserved.

  • The charge is conserved, to understand it differently, the sum of charges on the left-hand side of the reaction is equal to the number of charges on the right-hand side.

Artificial Transmutation Equation

The artificial transmutation equation is based upon the conversion laws as noted above. It represents the conversion of one element into the other. The reaction is shown with the number of protons. The element which is to be converted by bombardment is kept at the left-hand side along with the fundamental particle that has to be bombarded, on the right-hand side comes the final element along with the subatomic particles. An example of this can be:

When you bombard Uranium -238 with a neutron, it will convert into Uranium -239, it is highly unstable and transmutes into Neptunium which can be seen emitting a beta participle.

Difference Between Artificial Transmutation and Artificial Radioactivity

In artificial transmutation, one element, which is a non-radioactive element, is converted into a final element by bombarding a fundamental particle through artificial means. While in artificial radioactivity, the radioactivity is induced in a stable element, and the whole process undergoes numerous nuclear reactions.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the main Difference Between Artificial Transmutation and Nuclear Decay?

Well, as far as the main difference between the two revolves around the process of the two. While artificial transmutation revolves around the making use of a said generator such as a cyclotron in order to transmute elements, the nuclear decay is actually the process of natural decaying of a said element resulting into constituent elements. While nuclear decay is a natural process which got initiated at the starting of the universe, artificial transmutation is an artificial process.

What do you need for Artificial Transmutation?

The artificial transmutation can be achieved while using particle accelerators that strike the elements with the help of deuterons, small nuclei, or alpha particles. While using this process, you can lodge a few of the bombarding particles from protons into the target nucleus, resulting in transmutation into an entirely different element altogether.