Isotope dating method
This transformative ability some isotopes have has to do with the fact not all isotopes are stable, and is what led Frederick Soddy to his Nobel Prize-winning discovery of isotopes in 1913.
Some isotopes - such as carbon-12 - will happily continue to exist as carbon unless something extraordinary happens.
If you’ve ever studied a periodic table of the elements (see below), you’re probably already aware that this table reveals a great deal about the chemical properties of the atoms that make up our world.
But you may not realise that each square on the periodic table actually represents a family of isotopes — atoms which share the same name and chemical properties, but have different masses.
We produce these medical isotopes using our knowledge of how nuclear reactions proceed, with the help of nuclear reactors or accelerators called cyclotrons.
But we have also found ways to make use of naturally occurring radioactive isotopes.
Under normal circumstances, carbon-14 is produced in our atmosphere via cosmic ray reactions with nitrogen-14.
If the strong force wins out, the colliding nuclei bind together, or fuse, to form a heavier nucleus. One of its main sources of power is a series of fusion reactions and beta decay processes that transform hydrogen into helium.
Since the early 1900s, when the existence of isotopes was first realised, nuclear physicists and chemists have been seeking out ways to study how isotopes can be formed, how they decay, and how we might use them.
The electrons, which are much lighter than protons or neutrons, carry the same magnitude of charge as a proton but with the opposite sign, meaning that each atom that has equal numbers of protons and electrons is electrically neutral.
It is the electrons that determine the chemical behaviour of a particular element.
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So different isotopes of the same element are identical, chemically speaking.