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Nuclear Modification of Molten Metals via Electromagnetic Fields

  1. Mar 17, 2009 #1
    Hi all, I have a few odd questions.

    1. Can electromagnetic fields influence electrons orbiting around a nucleus?

    2. Would it be possible to squash an electron "cloud" into a ring or saucer shape by the application of magnetic fields (think of Saturn and its rings, Saturn = nucleus & rings = electrons)?

    3. If this is possible, what would happen to the nucleus? Would the nucleus be open for modification? Would the nucleus start to fly apart?

    I ask these questions because I want to confirm or deny something I heard a friend mention. He said if certain metals are kept molten while a strong electromagnetic field is applied the electron cloud will be squashed into a saucer configuration and the nucleus will be left open to modification. He gave an example: if silver is heated to flux in an induction furnace for a few hours it'll drop to palladium (difference of 1.5 atomic mass units).

    This seems highly questionable to me, but he was so vehement about this particular notion. I'm not a physicist, but rather a computer scientist. So I'm not sure if he was pulling my leg or not. A detailed explanation would be great!

    EDIT: I had trouble deciding which section I should post this, but hopefully I posted it in the right section! Please excuse me if I made a blunder.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2009 #2


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    Photons are electromagnetic particles, and a strong enough photon would ionize an atom.

    If one means using electrostatic and magnetic fields, then there would be some influence on electrons in metals (but not squashing atoms), but one is not going to achieve a nuclear transmutation with electromagetic fields unless it is a particular gamma-energy in which one might get a neutron to be ejected (photo-neutron), but that requires MeV levels of energy.

    To transform silver (Ag) to palladium (Pd), one would need to remove a proton, which could be done with an (n,p) reaction, but one is more likely to have the neutron absorbed by the Ag which ultimately decays by beta-decay to Cd.

    An alloy of Ag-In-Cd is used in control rods in pressurized water nuclear reactors (PWRs).
  4. Mar 17, 2009 #3
    I understand that the atom itself wouldn't be squashed. I don't think that's what he meant. I believe he was referring to restricting the otherwise chaotically orbiting electrons in the electron cloud to a pancake or saucer shape. This would leave the nucleus in a somewhat unshielded state. I don't even know if it's possible to manipulate electron orbitals in this particular fashion.

    I used the Saturn analogy to demonstrate what an atom would look like in this configuration. The rings of Saturn would represent the orbiting electrons in their restricted pancake style orbitals, and the nucleus would represent Saturn itself.

    Yeah, supposedly the electromagnetic fields are only used to manipulate the electron cloud. In this modified state the nucleus is open at the "poles" and then one is able to do low energy nuclear transmutations without having to deal with the electronic shield that would normally be present.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2009
  5. Mar 18, 2009 #4


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    Of course electrical fields will affect the electrons. That'd be the Zeeman effect.

    It's not going to do anything at all to the nucleus. The strong nuclear force is strong.

    Besides which, it'd be far simpler to just ionize the thing and remove the electrons altogether.
  6. Mar 18, 2009 #5
    Okay, so even if it were possible to manipulate the electron cloud in this particular fashion with electromagnetic fields the nucleus would still be pretty much unbreakable/unmodifiable due to the strong nuclear force?
  7. Mar 19, 2009 #6


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    Consider that protons repel each other already due to charge; the same electrical force you want to use here.
    In a nucleus, the protons will be separated by about a femtometer.

    The Coulombic force that the strong nuclear interaction is overcoming, is therefore on the order of (using Coulomb's law).. I get 230 Newtons. That's 52 pounds of force - on something that weighs less than 4E-27 pounds!

    Oh and my last post was wrong; Stark Effect not the Zeeman effect. The latter is magnetic fields, the former is electrical fields.
  8. Mar 19, 2009 #7
    There are three types of weak interaction decay in nuclear radioactive decay; beta decay of protons (positron emission), beta decay of neutrons (electron emission) and proton K-capture (where the proton absorbs an atomic electron from the K shell to form a neutron plus neutrino). Beryllium-7 is a typical K-capture decay with a half life of about 53 days. Experimenters believe that they have been able to change the half life slightly by putting the beryllium-7 in a crystal structure, which modifies the electron distribution.
  9. Mar 20, 2009 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Causing one element to change into another by putting it in a furnace is called "alchemy", and it doesn't work.

    I'm not certain how Bob S's comments connect to the OPs question, but one cannot turn silver into palladium with electricity
  10. Mar 23, 2009 #9
    My comments on beryllium 7 (above) is an example that the electron configuration can be modified enough to have a measurable effect on the rate that nuclear protons capture atomic electrons.
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