The Anonymous Widower

Happy Hundredth Birthday To Isotopes

I was having a cup of tea in a cafe, when the geologist I was talking to, said that isotopes, were first discovered a hundred years ago, and that there was a bit of a celebration.

I learned about isotopes in my physics many years ago, but now all that I seem to remember is that two isotopes of the same element, have the same numbers of electrons and protons, but differ in the number of neutrons. Carbon for example has three forms, Carbon 12, Carbon 13 and Carbon 14. The three forms all contain six protons and electrons, but 6, 7 and 8 neutrons respectively. If you ever have heard of the Carbon 14 dating of objects, there is an article here, which describes the process.

I used the different isotopes many years ago, in one of the first pieces of decent software I wrote.  I was trying to analyse the compounds in the output of a mass spectrometer. The samples contained lots of carbon compounds and I was told that the two common isotopes of Carbon 12 and Carbon 13, were in the ratio of ten to one, which meant that if you had a compound with several carbon atoms, you got a particular pattern. Experienced operators could identify the patterns.  So I worked out how to calculate the patterns and match them to the compounds.

So that is how I learned about one of the uses of isotopes in the analysis of compounds.

This was in 1969 and the mechanics of writing the program on a machine with only 4 Kb of memory, were much more difficult than the methods involved.

June 26, 2013 - Posted by | Computing, World | ,

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