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Insights Into Nuclear Decay

Physicists working at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) have obtained evidence that nuclei can decay by emitting a pair of neutrons. Emission of a so-called dineutron was predicted theoretically, but not seen until now because neutrons are difficult to detect.

The confirmed observation of dineutron emission will advance our understanding of nuclear isotopes with extra neutrons, both in terms of our knowledge of the conditions that result in stable or unstable (radioactive) nuclei, and for insights into stellar processes such as supernovae, that produce an abundance of neutron-rich isotopes.

The research involved collisions of a specially prepared beam and target that produce beryllium-16, which immediately decays to beryllium-14 via dineutron emission. The neutron pair is detected through a sequence of layers known as the Modular Neutron Array (MoNA). Nine undergraduate colleges and the NSCL collaborated on the detector.

The results were published in Physical Review Letters in March 2012.


  • undergraduates assemble materials for the modular neutron array
Undergraduates assemble the Modular Neutron Array.
Ken Kingery, Michigan State University

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