Muons offer a new way to store nuclear energy

When interacting with atoms, a fundamental particle called muon is found to be able to enable the storage and release of large amounts of nuclear energy.

All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms in turn are like small solar systems made of a nucleus (Sun) and electrons orbiting around it like planets. In 1921, Otto Hanh discovered that nuclei can store energy in the form of excitations. Much like the state of our brain on a first date or before an important test, these excitations can last for a long time. Atoms with excited nuclei are called isomers and some of them can survive in this state up to billions of years!

In principle, the energy stored in this way represents one of the densest and most carbon neutral form available to humanity. However, an efficient way to induce nuclear excitations and control the release of energy from them has not been discovered yet.

Muons are heavier electrons that can orbit around the nucleus much closer than ordinary electrons. In this paper, it was found that when muons are captured in one of these tight orbits, they can induce very strong nuclear excitations, so strong that they can even result in the fission of the nucleus itself, a process in which it breaks in smaller parts and release energy.

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