We know that Isotopes are multiple variants of the same elements with different Neutron Numbers irrespective of the same number of Protons present. The altering Neutron numbers also result in a different Nucleon Number. The best example of an Isotope is Deuterium, commonly we refer to it as Heavy Hydrogen. It is an alternate variant of Hydrogen that has only a single Neutron  Whereas, Hydrogen is present in abundance in the atmosphere. 



Introduction to Deuterium

We often state that it is the ultimate gift of the Big Bang. In between the creation of Helium and Hydrogen, the isotopic modification occurred rendering in the formation of the alter ego of Hydrogen, Deuterium.

The ratio of Deuterium to Hydrogen occurring naturally was first measured in its ionic form, however later on when it was measured again based on the spectre of the earth’s atmosphere, a mass spectrometer was used to deconstruct its chemical structure.

Definition – It is the stable isotopic variant of Hydrogen Gas consisting of a single proton and a single Neutron. Protium which does not have a neutron account for 99.9 per cent of the naturally occurring oceanic Hydrogen while the presence of Deuterium is only 0.02%.

Deuterium Oxide or Heavy water is a term which we use for water that has a chemical composition consisting of 2 atoms of Deuterium and 1 atom of Oxygen. Like any other compound, this Oxide also has the ability to form hydrates by forming a hydrogen bond.

Important Facts about Deuterium

It shows a few specific structural features. These include:

  1. The term is derived from the Greek word Deuteron which means Second.
  2. It is a fairly new isotopic variant of Hydrogen as it was only discovered in 1913 by Dr. Harold Urey. He even received Nobel Prize in 1934 for it.
  3. The atomic weight is 2.014
  4. The molecular weight is 4.0282 g/mol
  5. It is symbolically represented as 2H
  6. The nuclei of a single Deuterium is noted as Deuton or Deuteron
  7. Due to the very minute presence of Deuterium among the naturally occurring Hydrogen form, it has no radioactive properties.
  8. It is flammable in nature and burns with pale blue flame
  9. It is non-toxic, however, it can displace oxygen in the atmosphere and cause asphyxiation
  10. We also refer to it as Hydrogen 2 and Deuterons
  11. It’s colourless and odourless
  12. It has a boiling point of minus (-)249 degrees Celcius and a melting point of minus (-) 254 degrees Celcius.
  13. It is non-corrosive in nature
  14. Finally, it is slightly soluble in water when it is in low temperature (cold water)

Extraction Mechanism of Deuterium

Despite its structural stability, extracting it is not a very easy process. Available readily in Sea Water, there is an intricate manufacturing process for its extraction.

  • We process saltwater from the ocean to extract the Heavy water (D20) by chemical exchange method
  • Heavy water is then subjected to electrolysis using Hydrogen Sulphide which results in the formation of Deuterium Gas.

In addition to this common methodology, other alternate mechanisms include:

  1. Saltwater distillation using Hydrogen and Ammonia
  2. Fractional Distillation of Liquid Hydrogen

Uses of Deuterium

It has a wide range of applications despite its scarcity. 

  1. We use heavy water or Deuterated water in Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  2. Used as Moderator in Nuclear reactors
  3. We determine the metabolic rate of the human body by using it.
  4. We use it as the primary Tracer element for tracking the process of Photosynthesis in plants
  5. The magnetic field stabilization is maintained using Deuterium in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy.
  6. Deuterium Oxide plays a vital role in the determination of the isotopologue of various organic compounds.
  7. In heavy water form, we use it in Infrared Spectroscopy
  8. Tritium an important aspect of Nuclear fusion reaction is kept at a constant stable state and also controlled by using Deuterium.

Deuterium Oxide

A stable isotopic form of Water, Deuterium Oxide contains 2 atoms of Deuterium and a single atom of Oxygen. Despite its structure, Deuterium Oxide is nonradioactive. Industrially, we also refer to it as Heavy Water. The chemical formula of Deuterium Oxide is D2O. Just like water, It is also colourless and odourless. The refractive index of D2O is Minus (-) 1.38.

Types of Deuterium Oxide

We primarily see Deuterium Oxide or Heavy Water in three forms:

  1. Semi Heavy Water – The chemical annotation of this heavy water type is HDO. One proton, one Deuterium, and one Oxygen atom make it up.  Due to the equal number of protium and deuterium, they operate in an independent manner giving the water a state of dynamic equilibrium.
  2. Heavy Oxygen Water – We also refer to it as heavy density water. It is because it contains alternate isotopes of water like 17O and 18O. We generally use it in radiotracers and radiopharmaceuticals
  3. Tritiated Water –  Rather than Protium, the water has Tritium which we also denote as 3H. 

Precautionary Measures to Take While Handling Deuterium

We often regard it as a non-toxic and non-corrosive substance. Further, it is highly flammable just like Hydrogen. SO proper anti-flammable outerwear is necessary while handling it.

Additionally, since it is heavier than Oxygen, it can replace it and cause asphyxiation. Immediate oxygen administration is mandatory to prevent further internal organ damage.

FAQ on Deuterium

Question 1: Is Heavy Water drinkable?

Answer 1: Contrary to popular belief, heavy water is neither corrosive nor radioactive in its pure form. A small amount of Heavy water does not cause any harm. However, prolonged usage or drinking in large volumes can result in poisoning. 

Question 2: What are the chemical properties of Deuterium?

Answer 2: It is present in a gaseous state. It has no odour or colour, nor does it have any radioactive properties.

Question 3: What is the impact of Deuterium on Living Organisms?

Answer 3: It has a very unique Physiochemical structure, in addition to a very strong Kinetic isotopic behaviour pattern. Though we see no radical change, however, cells treated with Deuterium show a significant altercation in the process of cellular regeneration and energy metabolism. However, these changes are specific to a certain variety of organisms only. Humans are conducting Massive Marine researches to understand the kinetic isotopic behaviour of Deuterium in various different living organisms.

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