Secret of a Lifetime

Secret of a Lifetime

How long a neutron lives holds clues to the cosmos

By Rebecca Cheung, 10:37 AM May 3, 2012

In the nuclear family, the neutron is clearly the black sheep.

Unlike its sibling the proton, the neutron is eccentrically — and irritatingly — neutral. Because they have no electrical charge, neutrons are hard to guide and focus using electric fields. And unlike protons, which can be liberated by igniting hydrogen gas, the neutron is stubbornly sequestered within the atomic nucleus, making it especially hard to interact with one-on-one.

What’s most annoying is that neutrons are steadfastl...

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