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What is deuterium?

The  deuterium  is an isotope of the hydrogen species, which is represented as D or 2 H. In addition, it has been given the name of heavy hydrogen, because its mass is twice that of the proton. An isotope is a species that comes from the same chemical element, but whose mass number is different from this.

This distinction is due to the difference in the number of neutrons it has. Deuterium is considered a stable isotope and can be found in naturally occurring hydrogen compounds, although in a fairly small proportion (less than 0.02%).

Given its properties, very similar to those of ordinary hydrogen, it can replace hydrogen in all the reactions in which it participates, becoming equivalent substances.

For this and other reasons, this isotope has a large number of applications in different areas of science, becoming one of the most important.

Structure of deuterium

The structure of deuterium consists mainly of a nucleus that has a proton and a neutron, with an atomic weight or mass of approximately 2,014 g.

Similarly, this isotope owes its discovery to Harold C. Urey, a chemist from the United States, and his collaborators Ferdinand Brickwedde and George Murphy, in 1931.

In the upper image you can see the comparison between the structures of hydrogen isotopes, which exists in the form of protium (its most abundant isotope), deuterium and tritium, arranged from left to right.

The preparation of deuterium in its pure state was carried out successfully for the first time in 1933, but since the 1950s a substance in solid phase has been used and has demonstrated stability, called lithium deuteride (LiD), to replace deuterium and tritium in a large number of chemical reactions.

In this sense, the abundance of this isotope has been studied and it has been observed that its proportion in water may vary slightly, depending on the source from which the sample is taken.

In addition, spectroscopy studies have determined the existence of this isotope on other planets in this galaxy.

Some facts about deuterium

The fundamental difference between hydrogen isotopes (which are the only ones that have been named in different ways) lies in their structure, because the number of protons and neutrons in a species give it its chemical properties.

On the other hand, the deuterium existing inside the stellar bodies is eliminated with greater speed than it is originated.

In addition, it is considered that other phenomena of nature form only a tiny amount of it, so its production continues to generate interest today.

Similarly, a series of investigations has revealed that the vast majority of the atoms that have been formed from this species originated in the Big Bang; this is the reason why its presence is noticed in large planets like Jupiter .

As the most common way to obtain this species in nature is when it is found in combination with hydrogen in the form of protium, the relationship established between the proportion of both species in different fields of science continues to arouse the interest of the scientific community. , such as astronomy or climatology.

Deuterium properties

– It is an isotope devoid of radioactive characteristics; that is, it is quite stable in nature.

– It can be used to replace the hydrogen atom in chemical reactions.

– This species shows a behavior different from ordinary hydrogen in reactions of a biochemical nature.

– When the two hydrogen atoms are replaced in water, D 2 O is obtained , acquiring the name of heavy water.

– The hydrogen present in the ocean that is in the form of deuterium exists in a proportion of 0.016% in relation to protium.

– In stars, this isotope has a tendency to fuse quickly to give rise to helium.

– D 2 O is a toxic species, although its chemical properties are very similar to those of H 2

– When deuterium atoms are subjected to the nuclear fusion process at high temperatures, large amounts of energy are released.

– Physical properties such as boiling point , density , heat of vaporization, triple point, among others, have higher magnitudes in deuterium (D 2 ) molecules than in hydrogen (H 2 ) molecules .

– The most common form in which it is found is linked to a hydrogen atom, causing hydrogen deuteride (HD).

Uses / applications

Due to its properties, deuterium is used in a wide variety of applications in which hydrogen is involved. Some of these uses are described below:

– In the field of biochemistry, it is used in isotopic marking, which consists of “marking” a sample with the selected isotope to trace it through its passage through a specific system.

– In nuclear reactors that carry out fusion reactions, it is used to decrease the speed with which neutrons move without the high absorption of these that ordinary hydrogen presents.

– In the area of ​​nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), solvents based on deuterium are used to obtain samples of this type of spectroscopy without the presence of interferences that occur when using hydrogenated solvents.

– In the field of biology, macromolecules are studied through neutron scattering techniques, where samples provided with deuterium are used to significantly reduce noise in these contrast properties.

– In the area of ​​pharmacology, the substitution of hydrogen for deuterium is used due to the kinetic isotopic effect that is generated and allows these drugs to have a longer half-life.

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