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107
Stories About Chemistry

INDEX

32.  Mortality and Immortality
in the World of Elements

   There came a time when chemists became archeologists in a way. They learned to measure the age of various minerals in the Earth's crust, much like an archeologist determines how many centuries ago a bronze adornment or an earthenware vessel was made.

   Some minerals were found to be more than four and a half billion years old. They are as old as the planet Earth itself. But minerals are chemical compounds. They consist of elements. Therefore the elements are practically immortal. Isn't it absurd to ask whether an element can die? Death is the sad fate of living creatures. No, this question is not so pointless as it seems at first glance.
 


   There is a physical phenomenon called radioactivity. It consists in elements (rather, atomic nuclei) decaying spontaneously. Some nuclei emit electrons from their depths. Others throw up what are known as alpha-particles (helium nuclei). Still others break up into two approximately equal halves, this process being known as spontaneous fission.





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