Isotopes are atoms that belong to the same element that have the same number of protons in the nucleus, but which in turn contain a different number of neutrons. The differences that exist between the elements belong to a different isotope.

Isotopes are used in the field, in the food industry, in the sanitary control of pests, in archaeological investigations, among others. They are also used in the medical sector, in the diffusion of gamma rays to diagnose tumors in the human body. With the irradiation of these rays, many types of bacteria are eliminated, which guarantees the food industry to offer healthier and safer foods to consume.

What are the characteristics of isotopes?

Some of the most important characteristics of isotopes are:

  • They have protons with the same amount.
  • They can be found in nature.
  • They are atoms belonging to the same element that are in the same place in the periodic table, but that have different mass numbers.
  • Atoms that are isotopes have the same atomic number.
  • The number of neutrons they contain is different.
  • They are represented by the name of the element, followed by its mass number, and use a hyphenation.
  • They are species of elements that belong to the same chemical element.
  • They contain the same chemical property.
  • They may contain some physical differences since their masses are different.
  • Only 21 elements in the periodic table have a single natural isotope.

What is the importance of isotopes?

The importance of isotopes lies in their intended use. For instance:

  • In the area of ​​medicine.
  • To find the origin in some atoms after a chemical reaction.
  • To define the age of some things.
  • They are used in the area of ​​nuclear physics.
  • They are also used in fission and fusion to generate clean energy.

Isotope applications

The most prominent applications in the use of isotopes are:

  1. They determine the solubilities of substances that are not so soluble, as well as in very low volatile substances.
  2. They are also applied in the study of the formation of solid solutions and the absorption of precipitates.
  3. Another of the most used applications is to determine the age of objects, vegetables, and minerals.

What are the types of isotopes and their uses?

Natural Isotopes:

These are found in mother nature naturally. As a sample we have hydrogen that has 3 natural isotopes: deuterium, protium, and tritium. There is another element of nature that has isotopes of great importance such as carbon, which it has: Carbon-12, Carbon-13 and finally radioactive Carbon-14.

Artificial Isotopes:

We have that artificial isotopes are produced in nuclear-type laboratories, by bombardment of small sub-atomic particles. These isotopes generally have a very short life, primarily because of their inconsistency and the radioactivity they exhibit. We can mention Cesium and Iridium-192.

Isotopos Estables:

These isotopes are called stable because they contain a stable proton-neutron composition and do not show any signs of decline. Stable isotopes are used in geochemical developments where they can define the age of the geological material they are working on or studying. They are also used in some environmental and ecological tests, where they use elements such as: hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and sulfur.

Radioactive Isotope:

Radioactive isotopes have an unstable proton-neutron charge. These isotopes decay and often generate some types of radiation that influence alpha rays, beta rays, and gamma rays.

Examples of isotopes.

There are a great variety of isotopes and among the most prominent we can name:

  • Iridium 192 : this isotope is an artificial isotope used to check the tightness of the tubes.
  • Cobalt 60 : this isotope is used to treat cancer as it generates radiation with greater power than radium and is cheaper.
  • Carbon 14 : it is an isotope of carbon that has a half-life of 5,730 years, and is used in the branch of archeology to know the age of rocks and some organic matter.
  • Technetium 99 : This isotope is used in the medical field to detect blocked blood vessels.
  • Uranium 233 – This isotope is man-made and not found in nature. It is widely used in nuclear power plants.
  • Iodine 131 : it is a radio nuclide isotope that was used in nuclear tests carried out in 1945. This isotope produces the risk of cancer, in addition to thyroid-related diseases.
  • Tritium – This is a hydrogen isotope used in medicine as a tracer. The well-known hydrogen bomb is actually a tritium bomb.
  • Uranium 235 : This isotope of uranium is used in nuclear power plants to supply nuclear energy, just like it is used in the construction of atomic bombs.
  • Radium 226 : it is with this isotope that skin cancer treatments are performed.
  • Bromine 82 : this isotope is used in carrying out hydrographic studies of water flows or the dynamics of lakes.

What are the isotopes of Carbon?

In nature, various isotopes of carbon can be found. The best known are carbon 12, carbon 13 and carbon 14. The digits indicate the mass number for each isotope. The atomic number will always be the same, since all these isotopes contain 6 protons, and what varies in each of them is the number of neutrons that exist in the nucleus: six, seven and eight, respectively.

What are the isotopes of hydrogen?

Natural hydrogen contains 3 isotopes, notable which are:

  • The protium or also called common hydrogen: which does not have neutrons, and has an amount of 99.985%.
  • Deuterium : which contains a single neutron, and an amount of 0.015%.
  • Tritium : it is radioactive, and contains two neutrons, with an amount of 10 ^ -15%.

What is a radioactive isotope?

A radioactive or unstable isotope is one that disintegrates to give rise to new nuclides. When this decay occurs, the isotopes emit radiation, and become radioisotopes, which have radioactive properties, and can emit energy in the form of alpha, beta and gamma rays.

Applications of radioactive isotopes

Radioactive isotopes have many applications in various fields, from medicine, industry, technology, and in research fields. Among the most prominent applications we have the following:

  • They are used in the agricultural sector and in food production at an industrial level.
  • They are used to determine the age of an object by means of carbon-14.
  • In residential smoke detectors.
  • In anthropology and geology they are used to find out how and what materials are made of.
  • In medicine they are used in diagnostic equipment such as X-rays. And isotopes that emit gamma rays are used more frequently.
  • They are also used to sterilize all surgical supplies.
  • In the treatment of cancer through radiation therapy, to shrink tumors.

Industrial applications of isotopes

If we focus only on the part of the industry that uses isotopes, leaving aside medicine, geology and anthropology, we will see that the list of sections in which radioactive isotopes are used is very broad. Among them we can highlight:

  • Mining.
  • Iron industry.
  • Construction and public works.
  • Aluminum industries.
  • Sugar bowls.
  • Cement.
  • Tobacco industry.
  • Pharmaceutical.
  • Applied metallurgy.
  • Hydrology and Hydraulics.
  • Glass industry.
  • Ceramics
  • Wood Industry.
  • Manufacture of means of transport.
  • Aeronautical industry.

Use of isotopes in medicine.

Isotopes in medicine are used in the analysis and treatment of pathologies, in the disinfection of products frequently used in clinics, operating rooms, etc. They can be applied in multiple fields of medicine and their most prominent uses are:

  • Radium-226 : It is used in procedures to cure skin cancer.
  • Cobalt-60: it is used to treat cancer, since it generates radiation with more energy than is used in radio, being this more economical.
  • Arsenic-74 : it is used to detect brain tumors.
  • Phosphorous-32 : Used to determine and cover treatments for diseases related to the bones and bone marrow.
  • Iodine-131 : is used for thyroid cancer procedures.
  • Technetium-99 : used to detect pathologies or diseases at the skeletal system level. It can be used to check for plugged blood vessels.

Conclusion on the use of isotopes

Currently we live in an environment full of radiation, those that are emitted by the sun, those of the earth we walk on, the walls of our houses, and even those that we produce ourselves and those that are present in the existing elements of nature.

Just like the oil that contains carbon and the bones of our body that contain potassium, they all have something in common and are some atoms of special shape called isotopes, which naturally produce constant radiation.

Human beings learned to use isotopes for their own benefit, since the radiation contained in them helps them solve their problems in such essential sectors as agriculture, health, food and industry.

Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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