Notices
Results 1 to 24 of 24

Thread: Need help with radioactive elements

  1. #1 Need help with radioactive elements 
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Hello, I am doing research for a sci-fi novel that I am writing. One of the things I am trying to do which will hopefully separate my book from the work of others is that I am taking my time and doing lots of research to make certain that everything in my Sci-fi novel can be backed up with science and that it does not defy physics or anything like that which does happen in a lot of Sci-Fi novels and movies. My novel takes place in the future and most of everything in this future world is powered by an element very much like Plutonium except it admits A LOT more energy. This element is used to power pretty much everything in this futuristic world. I already have my new element named and all that but now I am trying to make the science behind it work. Most of my field of study has been in Astronomy so I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to more Earth based sciences.

    So I was hoping someone could help me work out the science behind this new element and make it work. It doesn’t have to be naturally occurring. I would prefer if it was but if in order to make the element work, it must be man made then I will go with it. I don't really understand the concept of Uranium or Plutonium and why exactly they give off energy or what the half life has to do with it. So any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thanks.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  2.  
     

  3. #2  
    Forum Sophomore
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Posts
    126
    well, elements are formed in stars, so perhaps you could have a civilisation so advanced that it can manipulate stars to produce precisely what they need? A sort of factory made of suns.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  4. #3  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Thank you for your reply. What I am really wanting help with is coming up with the properties of this new element that works within the boundries of science. For instance, My element produces way more energy than Plutonium yet is stable and is able to last a decent amount of time with out decaying so as it can be used as a viable power source. For instance, I see that Element 115 has been discovered but it decays very rapidly. I want to make this element as powerful as possible and still work scientifically.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  5. #4  
    Suspended
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    New Orleans
    Posts
    1,191
    Although not the only criteria, the maximum energy obtained from matter would follow Einstein's formula E=mC^2. I would start there, you could even extend the hypothesis to say that the advancements was 100% efficiency in use of any matter converting it to pure energy by that formula. Nuclear processes work according to this principle but only a tiny fraction of the atom is converted to energy. Both fission and fusion follow this formula.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  6. #5  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,169
    Quote Originally Posted by Martian_Monkey
    For instance, My element produces way more energy than Plutonium yet is stable
    There is a fundamental contradiction here. Power is extracted from radioactive elements via their instability. When they undergo fission they release energy (as determined by the E=mc^2 formula mentioned by cypress). If your element produces more energy than plutonium, chances are it must have a shorter half life and thus is less stable.

    I applaud your effort to make your novel as realistic as possible. You are going to find this difficult to do if you don't educate yourself a little more rigorously in the subject matter than you have so far. I believe you underestimate the effort most hard SF authors put into the science of their work. Many are or have been working scientists. Members here will be happy to help you, but I believe you have a great deal of self study to do before you are even asking the right questions.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  7. #6  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Hello, and you all very much for your reply. Yes Ophiolite, I am well aware of my lack of knowledge in certain areas of science. I do hold a degree from a university in Astronomy but I do not work in the field professionally. But even in Astronomy, I find there is lots that I don't know. But I am in no hurry to write this novel, I am not under any dead line or anything. Right now I am only in the research stage, so whether it takes 5 or even 10 years for me to feel confortable with the Science of my book, that will be fine, but I do actually want there to be science behind each and everything thing and technology in my novel.


    There is a fundamental contradiction here. Power is extracted from radioactive elements via their instability. When they undergo fission they release energy (as determined by the E=mc^2 formula mentioned by cypress). If your element produces more energy than plutonium, chances are it must have a shorter half life and thus is less stable.
    That is exactly what I was trying to ask in my initial question but wasn't sure you ask it. My knowledge of all Earth Sciences is obviously very limited. All of the information you listed above defines the problem I am having with my element. My element is so powerful that if you use the math, it would not last very long and there for would not be a viable source of power because it would not last very long. I am wondering if there is anyway in theory that maybe an element could exist to defy this rule and work for what I need or if there could possibly be a way to alter an element to create this element and make it work? I appreciate all the help and I am sure there will be many more questions.

    Thanks again.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  8. #7  
    Forum Sophomore
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Posts
    126
    Quote Originally Posted by Martian_Monkey
    I am wondering if there is anyway in theory that maybe an element could exist to defy this rule and work for what I need or if there could possibly be a way to alter an element to create this element and make it work? I
    pop it in a pre-heated star, let bake for a while, then store on the event horizon of a convenient black hole.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  9. #8  
    Forum Sophomore
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Goomalling, Western Australia
    Posts
    178
    Martian_Monkey
    just expanding a bit on where cypress and Ophiolite were pointing -

    fissionable elements (and fissionable isotopes*, which broadens the scope somewhat) are sources of energy because they are inherently unstable;
    the recently formed, and yet-to-be formed, super-heavy elements are so unstable that half-lives are measured in small fractions of a second - the talked-about "island of stability" elements in that part of the periodic table are thought to have half-lives of perhaps a few seconds ... further, these elements are only produced in minute quantities (a few atoms at a time at most) ...

    *when it comes to isotopes, there are lots of possibilities throughout the periodic table - the number of protons determines the element, the number of neutrons determines the isotope - the properties of known isotopes are well documented; predicting the properties of unknown isotopes is not straightforward ...

    .......

    you might have noticed that there has been a lot of interest in developing sustainable "cold" fusion reactions? Two reasons for this:
    the fuel elements/isotopes are generally stable and relatively easy to obtain and prepare; and
    the energy released in a fusion reaction is greater than that in a fission reaction ...

    so, this begs the question -
    what on Earth do you want a (presumably super-heavy) radioactive fuel element for?

    ........

    beyond fusion, and much closer to realising E=mc^2, is matter-antimatter annihilation ...

    a sustained commercial scale energy production using antimatter may require something like a fusion trigger set to initiate
    (analogous to hot fusion bombs which required fission detonators to work) ...

    again, the work done with antimatter so far is restricted to the extreme light end of the periodic table (mostly hydrogen ions ... protons) ... this is because antimatter seems to find it much harder to combine into larger anti-elements ...

    ETA: so your stable-yet-powerful element might actually be something like anti-carbon (currently un-producable, but not beyond plausibility)- stable, as long it doesn't come into contact with any sort of normal matter (not even air) ...
    if it does, be somewhere else ...
    Nature abhors perfection; cats abhor a vacuum.

    "I don't know; I'm making it up as I go ..." Dr H Jones (Jr).
    Reply With Quote  
     

  10. #9  
    Suspended
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Pennsylvania
    Posts
    8,822
    Let's make a distinction here between fission and radioactive decay. Fissile elements like Plutonium-239 and especially Uranium-235 are not really very unstable with respect to radioactive decay. Plutonium-239 has a half life of 24,110 years, decaying to U-235 by alpha decay. U-235 has a half-life of 704,000,000 years, decaying to Thorium-231 by alpha decay. This is a different process than fission, whereby these elements are placed in a reactor and bombarded by neutrons, then split into various elements called fission products. This happens very rapidly, almost instantaneously in a nuclear bomb.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  11. #10  
    Reptile Dysfunction drowsy turtle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    2,256
    You could make it a superheavy element that decays in a long series of radioactive elements, each with a relatively low half-life?
    "The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair." ~ Douglas Adams
    Reply With Quote  
     

  12. #11  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Hello everyone. Sorry, I had problems with my internet connection and haven't been online in the last few days. Now... so many posts to comment on.

    Harold14370 hit the nail on the head. What he described in his post is what I was trying to say. It seems based on what research I have done that the higher the atomic number of an Element such as the latest Element 115 Ununpentium. It has a short half life and thus decays into less powerful elements. So in reality, it isn't very practical to use. The more I read on the subject. It is becoming clear that my new element should possibly be a Fissile Element. It seems like this would probably be the most efficient and affective way of getting power from an Element like this. I think someone suggested this in an earlier post as well.

    In response to Cran. I am also using the concept of Matter Anti-matter annihilation in my novel. This annihilation Engine what is used in my novel by space craft. However, one drawback to an annihilation Engine is the huge amount of radiation that would be present in the exhaust. So much that it would not be safe to use on Earth especially knowing that space flight is a lot more common in my novel than it is now and going from Earth to Mars would be like flying from New York to DC in today’s time (not based on how long it would take but by how common it is). So, to make things safer, A vessel going from Earth into space would need some way of leaving earth without creating this huge amount of Radiation. I have that worked out but, I will still need a power source which is where this new element comes in. There are also other factors in my story that require large amounts of energy to make them work and an annihilation Engine would not be practical in these particular scenarios. Plus, even though this new element will also be radioactive, you can close it off with in a structure like in a nuclear submarine and its radiation will not affect the outside.

    In response to drowsy turtle.

    That idea of yours could work in my novel. Do you have any suggestions or can you elaborate on some of the details?
    Reply With Quote  
     

  13. #12  
    Reptile Dysfunction drowsy turtle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    2,256
    Sure.

    Unstable nuclei often decay in series; i.e. they decay into an element which itself decays, and so on, untill eventually creating a stable nucleus. You could have the element decaying as a whole series, where the original element has a half-life of a few thousand years or so, being an unusually stable superheavy element (you could research into proton and neutron shells in the nucleus to explain its stability; something I read about once in passing). The elements after it in the decay series would, therefore, have very short half-lives (which they would), being large, unstable nuclei, so that once the original nucleus decays, a huge amount of energy and radiation are released very quickly. The series would probably reach either plutonium or uranium eventually, which have very long half-lives in most isotopes, and so the series effectively stops.

    There could be a natural limit to the output of a single unit/cell powered on this element, because at a critical mass it undergoes rapid fission. This would be a good explanation for why this power source is not used for space-flight; the ships would have to have a large number of 'reactors', meaning they would be huge.

    The element would be unlikely to be naturally occurring, because the elements before it would tend to decay. Instead, you could have it being manufactured, off-world, in particle accelerators powered by antimatter/matter annihilators.


    Any use?
    "The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair." ~ Douglas Adams
    Reply With Quote  
     

  14. #13  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    hmm... thanks that really puts it into perspective but I am still not sure it fits with what I need it to do. My space ships in my novel have both Anti-matter annihilation engines and a reactor that handles the energy output of this element. Again the anti-matter is used for the space crafts fuel. But there are other technologies on the space craft which requires large amounts of energy for instance artificial gravity. Also with Anti-matter, you must have a magnetic field to prevent the Anti-matter from reacting with the matter in its storage vessel and with the walls of the "Annihilation chamber" else it would destroy the space craft. This element is used to power all these devices and more that I am not mentioning.

    I said before that it could be a man made element but now that I think about it, I don't know. One of the big things at the beginning of my novel is a war. This war is over disputed deposits of this element. Being that it is a great source of power and is required for many of the technologies required for space travel in my novel, it is very important. I new when I started researching Plutonium and Uranium to see how they worked that I had a problem though. I am not even sure if what I want is possible.

    What I cam up with for my novel is. 'Since every element is created inside of a star, this element is only formed in a certain type of star. And the star that exploded and spawned our solar system was not the correct type of star hence ther are no deposits of this element on earth.

    Again what I want may be not be scientifically plausable as what I envisioned was an element with about twice the energy potential as Plutonium if not more and about the same half life as Plutonium. Doesn't really sound like that would be possible. :
    Reply With Quote  
     

  15. #14  
    Reptile Dysfunction drowsy turtle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    2,256
    Quote Originally Posted by Martian_Monkey
    what I envisioned was an element with about twice the energy potential as Plutonium if not more and about the same half life as Plutonium.
    In that case, it might be difficult to explain; nuclei usually decay into more stable nuclei, but in the case of this heavy nucleus of yours, it would have to be much more stable than any products of the decay, to explain the long half-life.

    A superheavy element could be naturally occuring, and if so it would only form in very high energy conditions (i.e. certain types of sun), so this part makes some sense.
    "The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair." ~ Douglas Adams
    Reply With Quote  
     

  16. #15  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Cardiff, Wales
    Posts
    5,760
    i thought it was normal for instability to increase with nucleus size, since its size is starting to exceed the distance over which the strong and weak nuclear forces can act
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  17. #16  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Well this has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my novel, coming up with technologies and solutions that we currently don't have yet are viable within science. I have had to study so many different scientific fields that it has just been crazy. But having said that.

    If we had this supper heavy element, could there perhaps be some special way of handling it or treating it examples (compressing it with high pressures, storing in a vacuum, bombarding it with Gamma Rays ect.) that would increase the elements half life and yet allow for efficient energy extraction? Or could there be some kind of Chemical or compound within the composition of the Element which could act as a Stabilizing unit?
    Reply With Quote  
     

  18. #17  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Cardiff, Wales
    Posts
    5,760
    i'd say stay away from normal nuclear physics, that's probably a dead end
    is there anything in big bang physics that might give a future civilisation an unlimited source of energy?
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  19. #18  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    Hmm, well problem with Big Bang physics is that it is all theoretical. None of it can really be proven. I saw a simular discussion to this in the Religion section. So I think it would be difficult. I certainly am not knowledgeable enough to do anything with that. One thing I was thinking about. I read a quote from an astronomer somewhere talking about Dark Energy and Dark Matter and how if we understood the principles of either, it might unlock the universe to us. Perhaps my element could be some form of compressed Dark Matter? Perhaps Dark Matter that has been exposed to a high amount of energy say in a Super Nova but not just Any Super Nova, The Super Nova of a Super Massive Star. The energy created could be so great that it might actually transform the Dark Matter in a galaxy into an element that can be mined and used. The only thing then would be, how would you go about extracting energy from Dark Matter? We know so little about it and this scenerio I just painted might not even be plausable. Dark Matter is around us all the time, It is going threw our bodies right now. Yet for some reason. It doesn't interact with matter or Anti-matter. So this would probably be an entirely different process of energy extraction when compared to Plutonium and Uranium. Just something I just came up with.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  20. #19  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Cardiff, Wales
    Posts
    5,760
    on the other hand, with the field so wide open, you could just make it up
    Asimov did in "The Gods Themselves"
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  21. #20  
    Forum Freshman Martian_Monkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    33
    True, I forget sometimes that all my fiction has to be is based on science. I am writing a faction book after all, not a users manuel. The reader of the Novel doesn't have to understand every little principle behind every little thing in the novel as long as it doesn't ultmatly defy some big major rule of physics. I get carried away sometimes. :P
    Reply With Quote  
     

  22. #21  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Cardiff, Wales
    Posts
    5,760
    besides, remember Arthur C Clarke :

    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    i'm sure we would not be able to tell what energy sources will be used 1000 years from now, and chances are that we wouldn't understand the physics behind them either

    for near-future SF that may be a different kettle of fish, although even then major breakthroughs could take our forecast by surprise
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  23. #22  
    Forum Professor Wild Cobra's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Posts
    1,140
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    besides, remember Arthur C Clarke :

    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    i'm sure we would not be able to tell what energy sources will be used 1000 years from now, and chances are that we wouldn't understand the physics behind them either

    for near-future SF that may be a different kettle of fish, although even then major breakthroughs could take our forecast by surprise
    Oh come on...

    I thought everyone knew how a ZPM (zero point module) made energy...
    Reply With Quote  
     

  24. #23  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Cardiff, Wales
    Posts
    5,760
    just because i use one doesn't have to mean i understand how it works under the bonnet
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  25. #24  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,169
    Quote Originally Posted by Wild Cobra
    I thought everyone knew how a ZPM (zero point module) made energy...
    I asked my three year old granddaughter and she said they were still stuck on Bohr's model of the hydrogen atom at her day nursery. Perhaps you were mistaken.
    Reply With Quote  
     

Bookmarks
Bookmarks
Posting Permissions
  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •