Keeping it radioactive: This is how a molten salt nuclear reactor works

Radioactive elements produce heat as they decay. Nuclear plants draw power from this process, and typically stabilize the temperature with water. But during a power outage, H2O—which needs pumps to flow—can’t always prevent meltdowns. Molten salt reactors, which instead control heat with melted lithium and potassium fluorides, have a fail-safe: If the electricity dies, a plug will melt, causing the salts to seep down a safety drain and solidify around the uranium, preventing overheating. After a decades-long lull in development, countries from China to Denmark are building new molten salt reactors.

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Quantum electrodynamics and the proton size

Finding discrepancies between the predictions of fundamental theories and experimental observations is the main driver to develop physics further — the route to more advanced theories (‘new physics’) that fix the discrepancies. In that sense, quantum electrodynamics (QED) is currently seen as the most advanced fundamental theory, serving as the blueprint for any other quantum field theory. Progress is expected to come from ever more precise testing through comparison of theoretical predictions and experimental data. A good test compares values that can be both computed and measured with high accuracy. Some QED predictions excel in that respect, such as for the transition frequencies of atomic hydrogen and the gyromagnetic ratio of the electron.

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The Heidelberg compact electron beam ion traps

Electron beam ion traps (EBITs) are ideal tools for both production and study of highly charged ions (HCIs). In order to reduce their construction, maintenance, and operation costs, we have developed a novel, compact, room-temperature design, the Heidelberg Compact EBIT (HC-EBIT). Four already commissioned devices operate at the strongest fields (up to 0.86 T) reported for such EBITs using permanent magnets, run electron beam currents up to 80 mA, and energies up to 10 keV. They demonstrate HCI production, trapping, and extraction of pulsed Ar16+ bunches and continuous 100 pA ion beams of highly charged Xe up to charge state 29+, already with a 4 mA, 2 keV electron beam. Moreover, HC-EBITs offer large solid-angle ports and thus high photon count rates, e.g., in x-ray spectroscopy of dielectronic recombination in HCIs up to Fe24+, achieving an electron-energy resolving power of EE > 1500 at 5 keV. Besides traditional on-axis electron guns, we have also implemented a novel off-axis gun for laser, synchrotron, and free-electron laser applications, offering clear optical access along the trap axis. We report on its first operation at a synchrotron radiation facility demonstrating the resonant photoexcitation of highly charged oxygen.

 

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