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Deuterium – Definition, Uses and Properties

Sep 6, 2022

One of the isotopes of hydrogen is called deuterium. There is one proton, one electron, and no neutrons in a single hydrogen molecule. The proton, the electron, and the neutron are the constituent particles that make up the atom. hydrogen-deuterium gas is the most common element in the universe. Protium, the form of hydrogen that does not contain a neutron, makes up 99.9 per cent of the naturally occurring hydrogen in the ocean. In contrast, the existence of deuterium makes up just 0.02 per cent of it.

Deuterium Meaning 

Initially, the ratio of naturally occurring hydrogen-deuterium was determined in its ionic form. However, later on, when it was measured once again based on the spectrum of the earth’s atmosphere, a mass spectrometer was used to disassemble its chemical structure. It is the stable isotope of hydrogen gas and consists of a single proton and a single neutron. The fact that hydrogen has three isotopes with names sets it apart from all other elements. One of the forms that hydrogen may exist in is called deuterium. It has one proton and one neutron in its makeup. Protium, the most abundant isotope of hydrogen, contains just one proton and no neutrons in its atomic structure. Because it includes a neutron, deuterium is much more hefty or weighty than Protium.


Deuterium is often referred to as heavy hydrogen. Because each tritium atom consists of one proton and two neutrons, it is often referred to as heavy hydrogen. Tritium is the name of the third and final isotope of hydrogen.

Uses of Deuterium

  • In magnetic resonance spectroscopy, low deuterium water is a necessary component.
  • Within nuclear reactors, it plays the role of a moderator.
  • Utilising it is one way to ascertain the pace at which the human body burns fuel for energy.
  • As the major tracer element, it is used to monitor the process of photosynthesis in plant life.
  • Maintaining the integrity of the magnetic field is made possible with the use of deuterium in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
  • It plays a role in the process of determining the isotopologue of a variety of different chemical compounds.
  • In the form of heavy water, it is used in the field of infrared spectroscopy.
  • Tritium is an essential component of the nuclear fusion process, which may be found in many different forms. Deuterium is used to maintain control over it.

Deuterium Properties

  • Both deuterium and tritium can form chemical bonds that are far more stable than those formed by regular hydrogen (Protium).
  • Normal hydrogen has a triple point, boiling point, point of vaporisation, heat of fusion, and heat of vaporisation that are lower than those of deuterium, which have much greater values.
  • Deuterium gas lacks any discernible hue. When it is ionised, it gives off a distinctively pink light.
  • Due to the stronger bonding, heavy water has a density of about 10.6 times more than conventional water (1.624 g/cm3). While regular water causes heavy water ice to sink, heavy water itself causes regular water ice to float.
  • Additionally, heavy water has a higher viscosity compared to regular water. (12.6 μPa·s at 300 K).
  • The sign D may be used to represent deuterium. 
  • Protium is found in far greater quantities than deuterium. The proportion of natural hydrogen it makes up is just 0.0156 per cent.
  • The deuterium nucleus is termed a deuteron or deuton.
  • Deuterium is one of only five stable isotopes that contain an odd number of neutrons and an odd number of protons. The other four are hydrogen, helium, neon, and oxygen. In most cases, doubly-odd atoms are unstable and experience decay through the beta process.
  • There is evidence that deuterium may be found on planets outside of our solar system as well as inside other stars. The concentration of deuterium in the solar system’s gas giants is comparable to that of one another.
  • The amount of naturally occurring deuterium varies widely depending on its source.
  • Deuterium (like Protium) becomes a liquid metal at tremendous pressure.
  • The antideuteron, composed of an antiproton and an antineutron, is the antimatter particle that corresponds to a deuteron in the standard model of particle physics. Antimatter deuterium is referred to as antideuterium and is made up of positrons in addition to an antideuteron.
  • To put it another way, deuterium does not have any radioactive properties.
  • In the ocean, the natural concentration of deuterium is around 156.25 parts per million, which equates to one atom for every 6,400 atoms of hydrogen.
  • To put it another way, 99.98 per cent of the hydrogen in the ocean is Protium. In contrast, just 0.0156 per cent is deuterium (or 0.0312 per cent by mass).
  • There is a little but discernible difference in the natural quantity of deuterium across the various water sources.
  • Harold Urey was the one who discovered deuterium in 1931. He created several samples of heavy water using the newly discovered type of hydrogen. In 1934, Urey was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
  • In biological processes, deuterium acts in a manner that is distinct from that of regular hydrogen. For instance, drinking a tiny bit of heavy water or low deuterium water will not kill you, but consuming a significant amount of it might have fatal consequences.

Types of Deuterium Oxide

The most common types of deuterium oxide, sometimes known as heavy water, are as follows:


1. Low deuterium water

HDO is the abbreviation for the chemical annotation of this sort of heavy water. It comprises one proton, one deuterium atom, and one oxygen atom. The dynamic equilibrium of the water results from the fact that it contains an equal quantity of Protium and deuterium, which behave in a way that is independent of one another.

2. Heavy Oxygen Water

Additionally, we may refer to it as water with a high density. This is because it has several water isotopes, such as 17O and 18O. Radiotracers and radiopharmaceuticals are typical applications for this substance.


3. Tritiated Water

Tritium, represented by the symbol 3H, is found in the water rather than in the proton.


About the two constituent particles that make up the nucleus, the term “deuterium” originates from the Greek word “deuterons,” which means “second.” In 1931, Harold Urey made the discovery that led to the naming of deuterium. Urey was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1934 “for his discovery of heavy hydrogen,” which was made possible by the discovery of the neutron in 1932. This made it possible to understand the nuclear structure of deuterium. Shortly after the discovery of deuterium, Urey and others generated samples of so-called “heavy water,” in which the amount of deuterium present had been greatly amplified. 


According to quantum physics, the electrons’ energy levels in atoms depend on the decreased mass of the system composed of the electron and the nucleus. For the hydrogen-deuterium atom, the role of reduced mass can be seen in its most straightforward form in the Bohr model of the atom. The reduced mass can be seen in a straightforward calculation of the Rydberg constant and the Rydberg equation in this model. However, the reduced mass can also be seen in the Schrodinger and the Dirac equations, which are used to calculate atomic energy levels.


The chemical bonds formed by the isotopes of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium are much stronger than those formed by Protium. The fact that it is more difficult to extract carbon from deuterium is relevant to the field of pharmacology. Heavy water has a greater viscosity compared to regular water. It has a density that is 10.6 times that of regular water. The deuterium content of the planets in the solar system’s farthest reaches is comparable. It is generally accepted that most of the deuterium present today was created during the nucleosynthesis process during the Big Bang. There is just a trace of deuterium found in the Sun and other stars. Stars use up deuterium at a pace greater than the rate at which the proton-proton process can create it.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you drink heavy water?

Heavy water is always connected to anything damaging to human health and dangerous to the environment, such as nuclear reactors and other radioactive elements, which is well recognized. On the other hand, radioactivity and toxicity are not issues in pure heavy water since heavy water is not radioactive. Humans may consume pure heavy water, but only in limited amounts. Suppose a significant amount of this water is drunk over a protracted period. In that case, it has the potential to cause harm to the human body. The ingestion of significant volumes of heavy water may lead to poisoning, which can manifest itself with symptoms such as dizziness and a drop in blood pressure.

2. Is Protium an isotope of hydrogen?

The isotope of hydrogen found in the greatest abundance is called proton. It is responsible for more than 99.98 per cent of all of the hydrogens in the cosmos. Protium gets its name because its nucleus contains exactly one proton. Protium has a mass of 1.00782504(7) u on the atomic scale.


3. What is the atomic mass of deuterium?

It has been determined that deuterium has an atomic mass of 2.014 amu.



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