Ginter, Tom National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
Last reviewed:January 2020
- Operating principle
- Role of isotope separators at rare-isotope factories
- In-flight separation
- Online separation
- Comparison of separation techniques
- Separators as research tools
- Example of a nuclear research facility
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
Devices for selecting one or more isotopes of interest from a mixture of matter. Nuclear scientists study the properties of isotopes in the laboratory to understand the fundamental principles of nuclear matter. The vast majority of isotopes available for study live for less than a few hours, and most for less than a few seconds. Because such isotopes are not found on Earth, they are termed rare isotopes, and they must be manufactured to be studied—typically in nuclear reactions, when a particle beam accelerated to high energy strikes a target. Before an isotope can be studied, it must be isolated. The purpose of an isotope separator is to collect the isotope of interest while rejecting the others. This article discusses the basic operating principle of a magnetic separator, two complementary strategies for using separators to generate rare isotopes at so-called isotope factories, and how separators are also used directly as tools for nuclear physics research. See also: Isotope
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