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TRIUMF Researchers Move One Step Closer to Understanding Production of Matter in the Universe

News Release | For Immediate Release | December 14, 2001

(Vancouver, BC) -- TRIUMF, Canada's National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, today announced that researchers had successfully simulated the reaction of the unstable, radioactive (or exotic) isotope sodium 21 during nova and other cataclysmic stellar events.

'During a nova or supernova explosion, material generated during the lifetime of the star is thrown out into space at enormous speeds and eventually is incorporated into new stars and planets,' said Alan Shotter, Director of TRIUMF. 'By understanding what happens to matter during a supernova, we gain a better understanding of how the basic building materials of our universe are created and distributed throughout space.'

TRIUMF is currently the only accelerator lab in the world with the general capability of re-creating the microscopic processes that happen in these cataclysmic events. To do this, TRIUMF researchers use the 500 MeV cyclotron accelerator and the Isotope Seperator and Accelerator (ISAC). The cyclotron utilizes an intense, high-energy beam of protons to produce large quantities of the isotope, sodium 21. ISAC then seperates, extracts and accelerates on-line, a clean intense beam of these sodium 21 ions. These rare isotopes are accelerated to desired velocities (stellar energies) and thereby reproduce some of the steps in a nova or possibly a supernova even.

'TRIUMF is the first lab in the world to successfully accelerate these radioactive isotopes and to study with them microscopic processes that occur in stars', said Alan Shotter. 'TRIUMF researchers first proposed this project almost 18 years ago and to finally see it come to fruition is extremely fulfilling.'

'The National Research Council of Canada is very proud of Canada's achievements through TRIUMF in the development of accelerated radioactive beams which puts Canada at the forefront of this important and rapidly developing field,' said Arthur Carty, President of the National Research Council of Canada.

The reaction of sodium 21 during a nova is particularly interesting to astrophysicists and other researchers because astronomers expect to detect gamma rays from the long-lived, radioactive isotope sodium 22 when observing novae in the universe. However, these gamma rays have not yet been observed and researchers around the world are working to determine why not.

The next step for TRIUMF and ISAC, after the results from the sodium 21 project is reported to the world astrophysics community is the pursuit of one of the thorniest problems of nuclear astrophysics, the duplication of the reaction using oxygen 15, theorized to be the spark that ignites a nova explosion or x-ray bursts. TRIUMF, due to its success with the sodium 21 research, is well positioned to take the worldwide lead in this research.

Now that TRIUMF researchers have successfully accelerated this unstable, radioactive isotope, a significantly broader range of research can be underrtaken at TRIUMF. These accelerated isotopes can be used for studies beyond astrophyiscs, and the range of applications can include materials science, industrial uses, atomic physics, surface science, nuclear structure explorations of very deformed nuclei and many more.


TRIUMF is Canada's National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Located on the south campus of the University of British Columbia, TRIUMF is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of the following Canadian universities, via a contribution through the National Research Council Canada: University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, Carleton University, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, McMaster University, Université de Montréal, Queen's University, University of Regina, Simon Fraser University, Saint Mary's University, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, York University.

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