With a half-life of 5,370 years, carbon-14, or radiocarbon, serves as a sort of "second hand" on the geological clock, enabling scientists to determine the age of objects that date back no more than 50,000 years.
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NUCLEAR ALCHEMY, ACHIEVED NOT BY ANCIENT MAGIC but through a new state-of-the-art accelerator system, is the purpose of the Iso Spin Laboratory (ISL) that is being developed by researchers with LBL's Nuclear Science Division (NSD).
Designed primarily to produce intense beams of radioactive ions that are rich in either neutrons or protons, the ISL could help expand the number of different atomic nuclei available for study and possible exploitation from the approximately 270 that Nature provides to more than 5,000.
Until recently, highly unstable nuclei existed only in neutron stars or in the cores of supernovae, yet scientists were eager to study them, for in their isospin dimensions lies the key to understanding the processes by which all of the elements found on earth and throughout the universe were formed.
In the past few years, advances in particle accelerators and detectors have made it possible for scientists to create and study more than 3,000 of these nuclei.
Such studies have provided tantalizing glimpses of the knowledge and possible technological benefits out there for the taking -- nuclear structures never predicted by any model or theory, chemistry that breaks all of the known rules, and even the Holy Grail of nuclear science, the discovery of stable "superheavy" elements that are believed to exist beyond element 109 on the Periodic Table.