The element helium is the second most abundant element found in the universe, and also one of the most unique. There are many types of Helium, and these varieties are known as isotopes. Isotopes of an element contain the same number of protons (positive particles) in the nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons (neutral charges). This results in different physical and chemical properties.
The most common form of helium is known as helium-4, and this contains 2 protons and 2 neutrons in the nucleus. Incidentally the number after the element name indicates the mass number of each atom of the element, which is a measure of the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Hence helium-5 is an isotope of helium which contains two protons and three neutrons in the nucleus of each atom.
Helium-5 does not exist in nature, but can be created artificially. The reason we want to do this is because it has a range of remarkable and very useful properties. Helium-5 contains an imbalance in the nuclear composition (one too many neutrons) and this makes the nucleus unstable and hence radioactive. Consequently, helium-5 undergoes radioactive decay by emitting a neutron and a tremendous amount of energy.
This energy can be utilised as fuel for a variety of nuclear reactions for a range of different purposes. Unlike radioactive sources such as uranium and cobalt which remain radioactive (and hence dangerous) for a long time, helium-5 has a very short half-life (of less than a nanosecond), and this means that it can be very safely disposed without fear of lasting effects of harmful radiation. This means we can utilise a safe source of nuclear energy, which gives great potential in presenting a solution to the ever increasing demand for energy and the burgeoning energy crisis.
In conclusion, helium-5 is a radioisotope of helium which has great potential in industry. Its unique properties come from its unique nuclear composition. It is through attaining an understanding and appreciation of the chemistry involved with helium-5 that we can begin to comprehend the amazing benefits it presents to not only the US, but also the whole world.