Download PDF

What is Deuterium?

Deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen, is one of the isotopes of hydrogens that is stable. The name deuterium is derived from the Greek word deuterons, which means 'second'.  The nucleus of the hydrogen-deuterium atom is known as a deuteron, containing one proton and one neutron. Protium does not have a neutron. Deuterium has a natural abundance of about one atom in between 6420 hydrogens in the oceans. Thus, deuterium takes account for approximately 0.02% (0.03% by mass) of all the hydrogens that occur naturally in the oceans, and protium takes account for the rest of 99.98%.

Facts of Deuterium

Some facts related to the deuterium atom are as follows.

  • The nucleus of Deuterium is termed as a deuteron or a deuton.

  • D or 2H is the chemical symbol that is used for expressing Deuterium.

  • Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that is present in very small quantities in the earth's ocean in the form of heavy water. It isn't easy to extract deuterium from the ocean. Intense energy girdler sulfide starts the process of producing heavy water.

  • Deuterium is measured to have an atomic weight of 2.014.

  • Deuterium is an atomic species that are stable and are generally found in natural hydrogen compounds. They are present to the extent of 0.0156% in the natural hydrogen compounds, which is why they are not radioactive.

  • The estimated amount of deuterium present in the ocean will equal to 156.25 ppm approximately. This amount is the same as one atom that is present in 6420 hydrogens.

  • The word deuterium was derived from the Greek word deuterons, which means second. Second, here refers to the two particles present in the nucleus of a deuterium atom. These two particles are neutron and proton.

  • Deuterium was discovered by Harold Urey in 1931. He produced samples of heavy water using this isotope of hydrogen. He won the Nobel prize in the year 1934 for his inventions.   

Uses of Deuterium

The two uses of the deuterium atom are as follows.

  • The deuterium atom is widely used in prototype fusion reactors. The deuterium atoms also have their application in military, industrial, and scientific fields.

  • They are used as a tracer in nuclear fusion reactors in order to slow down the neutrons in heavy water moderated fission reactors. 

Deuterium Oxide

Deuterium oxide is an isotopic form of water which is always stable and non-radioactive. This element contains two atoms of deuterium (D) and one atom of oxygen, with DNA-labelling activity. It is also known as heavy water. It is called heavy water due to the presence of deuterium in it, which is a heavier hydrogen isotope as compared to the hydrogen isotope (protium), which is present in normal water.

The heavier hydrogen isotope brings out the nuclear properties of water. The increase in the mass of the water due to deuterium makes the water slightly different from normal water in terms of physical and chemical properties.


The properties of deuterium oxide or hydrogen deuterium oxide are as follows.

  • The chemical formula of deuterium oxide is D₂O.

  • The molar mass of this element is calculated to be 20.0276 g mol-1.

  • The appearance of this liquid is colourless.

  • The deuterium water is odourless.

  • The density of this liquid is measured at 1.107 g ml-1.

  • The melting point of deuterium oxide is 3.820C.

  • The boiling point of deuterium oxide is 101.40C.

  • The refractive index of D₂O water is -1.38.


Some of the uses of deuterated water are listed below.

  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy makes the use of deuterated water.

  • In some nuclear reactors, it is used as a moderator.

  • In the medical field, it is used to test the metabolic rate of human beings. 

  • Deuterium is prepared by using heavy water.

  • The deuterated water is used as a tracer while researching the mechanism of photosynthesis and respiration.

  • NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) spectroscopy uses heavy water to keep an eye on the magnetic fields that are around the nuclei of atoms, thus helping in observation.

  • Deuterium oxide proves to be a great help in the preparation of isotopologues of many organic compounds.

  • In IR (infrared) spectroscopy, it is preferred to use heavy water instead of normal water.

  • It can act as a moderator to decrease the speed of neutrons for slowing them down in nuclear reactors.

  • Tritium being an active substance that is used in controlling the nuclear fusion reactions is formed when a neutron is captured by deuterium present in heavy water.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Can You Drink Heavy Water?

It is a known fact that heavy water is always related to something that is dangerous and harmful to human health, such as nuclear reactors and radioactive materials. However, heavy water, which is pure, is not at all radioactive and is not so harmful. Human beings can drink pure heavy water but in small quantities. If this water is consumed in large quantities for a long period of time, then it can cause damage to the human body. Consumption of heavy water in large quantities can cause poisoning causing symptoms like dizziness and loss of blood pressure.

2. What Are the Chemical Properties of Heavy Water?

The chemical properties of heavy water are as follows.

  • The isotopes of hydrogen can show different chemical behaviours in a matter of time, which depends on the difference in the atomic masses.

  • A high quantity of deuterium can change the solvent properties of the water that can cause damage to the biological system.

  • When normal water is compared to heavy water, the normal water dissociates to some extent.

  • In a D₂O sample, the concentration of D+ ions is generally lower than the concentration of H+ions in an H₂O sample. This is possible at a specific temperature.

Share this with your friends