Physics: Clusters Whip Light Atomic Nuclei Into Shape

Science  16 Feb 1996:
Vol. 271, Issue 5251, pp. 922-924
DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5251.922


Today, exactly 100 years after Henri Becquerel found the first clues to their existence, alpha particles—made of two protons and two neutrons—are producing dramatic insights into the structure and behavior of light atomic nuclei. Recent work by several British and American physicists indicates that at high energies, the alpha particles in some of these nuclei, such as carbon or magnesium, can form “nuclear molecules,” where one cluster of alpha particles orbits around another, and even bizarre long chains.