Physicists have created a fabric that can «sort» isotopes of different elements

© Fotolia / AbstractUniverseТак the artist imagined stolknovenie ultra-small particlesPhysicists have created a fabric that can «sort» isotopes of different elements© Fotolia / AbstractUniverse

. Korean scientists have created an unusual fabric that is able to separate heavy and light isotopes of various elements, if it is impregnated with the mixture and squeeze. Recipe for its manufacture was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

«If this «tissue» is exposed to some external stimuli, the pores within it change their shape, resulting in an effect similar to the breathing pores on the leaves of plants or on the surface of the skin. In other words, these holes start to shrink and expand. Using this effect, we can absorb and emit certain isotopes,» says Jin-Yong Kim (Jin Yeong Kim) from the National Institute of science and technology in Ulsan (South Korea).

One of the most difficult tasks in chemistry and physics is the development of methods to extract only certain isotopes of natural deposits of certain elements or mixtures of products of nuclear and thermonuclear reactions. As a rule, most of these methods requires huge amounts of energy and other resources, and has a lot of limitations, so they are mainly used for military, energy, and scientific purposes.

Kim and his colleagues created the material, a kind of «fabric» that can solve one of the most difficult tasks of this kind, to separate regular from heavy hydrogen deuterium, experimenting with so-called metal-organic frameworks (IOC).

They are complex polymeric materials similar in structure to a honeycomb and has a very high porosity and strength. Today the IOC is used to create a filter capable of trapping carbon dioxide or hydrogen and retain huge amounts of these gases.

The dimensions of the cells in such structures, as noted by the Korean physics can change dramatically if the frames are compressed or stretched, which noticeably change that, which molecules and atoms, they can absorb and retain. This gave them the idea that the IOC can be constructed so that its pores will pass only one type of isotope in compression or stretching, and all the variants of a particular element at rest.

Using this idea, Korean scientists have created a kind of «sieve» which freely pass through the molecules of ordinary hydrogen, but in the cells which get stuck heavier molecules of deuterium. As in the case of conventional sieve, it can be cleaned from heavy hydrogen, just slamming it with your hand or a heavy object in the right time. This will cause the material to shrink, causing the pore size will change, and deuterium will be «catapulted» out of fabric.

The same result can be achieved by heating the sieve or by changing the temperature of the gas which passes through it that allows you to sort the isotopes in a fully automatic mode, without using a complex system of purification and separation of gas flows. It is, as scientists believe, distinguishes it from most other methods of isotope separation, it is much more difficult to use and require constant attention of the technologists.

As the researchers note, each gram of this tissue may absorb about 12 milligrams of deuterium, which is a record high value for installations of this kind. The efficiency of «screening», according to Kim, you can make it even higher if you pick a perfect moment for «shaking out» of the heavy isotope from his pores.

Similarly you can sort and share and other isotopes and molecules, are very similar to each other in size and shape. The researchers hope that their technique will find application in industry and in laboratories around the world.