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8pi spectrometer in TRIUMF Lab.

Data collected by the 8π spectrometer (pictured) at the TRIUMF particle-accelerator centre in Vancouver, Canada, suggest that some cadmium nuclei can take on shapes similar to those of rugby balls. Credit: TRIUMF

Atomic and molecular physics

Squashed nuclei undermine long-held doctrine of nuclear structure

Stable cadmium nuclei can change shape even when their energies are low.

A cadmium atom’s nucleus shape-shifts even when its energy is low — a finding that overturns a widely held conviction about the structure of atomic nuclei.

According to the standard theory of nuclear structure, the protons and neutrons that make up an atomic nucleus are arranged in structures called shells. Scientists have long thought that a stable nucleus whose shells are almost full remains spherical unless it becomes highly energized, or ‘excited’.

Paul Garrett at the University of Guelph in Canada and his colleagues investigated this theory using stable forms of the element cadmium. When cadmium nuclei relaxed from excited states, they emitted γ-rays. This radiation held clues to the properties of these excited nuclear states.

The authors compared these properties with the results of innovative calculations, and suggest that the nuclei take on a variety of non-spherical rugby-ball shapes despite the fact their nuclear shells are nearly full. If the squashed nuclei can be observed directly, textbooks describing nuclear structure might need to be rewritten, the team suggests.

More Research Highlights...

Coloured transmission electron micrograph of two Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria

Genomic analysis identified starch-loving Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria (artificially coloured) in the mouths of modern humans and Neanderthals, but not in chimpanzees’ mouths. Credit: National Infection Service/Science Photo Library

Microbiome

Microbes in Neanderthals’ mouths reveal their carb-laden diet

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Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space

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Astronomy and astrophysics

Voyager 1 captures faint ripples in the stuff between the stars

The first spacecraft to visit interstellar space has now become the first to make continuous measurements of waves in that remote realm.
Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
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