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Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is a stable isotope of hydrogen with a natural abundance in the oceans of Earth of approximately one atom in 6500 of hydrogen (~154 PPM). Deuterium thus accounts for approximately 0.015% (on a weight basis, 0.030%) of all naturally occurring hydrogen in the oceans on Earth (see VSMOW; the abundance changes slightly from one kind of natural water to another). Deuterium abundance on Jupiter is about 2.25·10^-5 (about 22 atoms in 1,000,000 or 15% of the terrestrial deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio); these ratios presumably reflect the early solar nebula ratios, and those after the Big Bang. However, other sources suggest a much higher abundance of e.g. 6·10-4 (6 atoms in 10,000 or 0.06% atom basis). There is little deuterium in the interior of the Sun, since thermonuclear reactions destroy it. However, it continues to persist in the outer solar atmosphere at roughly the same concentration as in Jupiter.

The nucleus of deuterium, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one neutron, whereas the far more common hydrogen nucleus contains no neutrons. The isotope name is formed from the Greek deuteros meaning "second", to denote the two particles composing the nucleus.

Differences between deuterium and common hydrogen (protium)

Chemical Symbol

Deuterium is frequently represented by the chemical symbol D. Since it is an isotope of hydrogen with mass number 2, it is also represented by ²H. IUPAC allows both D and ²H, although ²H is preferred. The reason deuterium has a distinct chemical symbol may be its large mass difference with protium (¹H); deuterium has a mass of 2.014102 u, compared to the mean hydrogen atomic weight of 1.007947 u, and protium's mass of 1.007825 u. The isotope weight ratios within other chemical elements are largely insignificant in this regard, explaining the lack of unique isotope symbols elsewhere

Natural Abundance

Deuterium occurs in trace amounts naturally as deuterium gas, written ²H2 or D2, but most natural occurrence in the universe is bonded with a typical ¹H atom, a gas called hydrogen deuteride (HD or ¹H²H).

The existence of deuterium on Earth, elsewhere in the solar system (as confirmed by planetary probes), and in the spectra of stars, is an important datum in cosmology. Stellar fusion destroys deuterium, and there are no known natural processes (for example, see the rare cluster decay), other than the Big Bang nucleosynthesis, which might have produced deuterium at anything close to the observed natural abundance of deuterium. This abundance seems to be a very similar fraction of hydrogen, wherever hydrogen is found. Thus, the existence of deuterium is one of the arguments in favor of the Big Bang theory over the steady state theory of the universe. It is estimated that the abundances of deuterium have not evolved significantly since their production about 13.7 billion years ago.

Physical properties

The physical properties of deuterium compounds can be different from the hydrogen analogs; for example, D2O is more viscous than H2O. Deuterium behaves chemically similarly to ordinary hydrogen, but there are differences in bond energy and length for compounds of heavy hydrogen isotopes which are larger than the isotopic differences in any other element. Bonds involving deuterium and tritium are somewhat stronger than the corresponding bonds in light hydrogen, and these differences are enough to make significant changes in biological reactions (see heavy water).

Deuterium can replace the normal hydrogen in water molecules to form heavy water (D2O), which is about 10.6% denser than normal water (enough that ice made from it sinks in ordinary water). Heavy water is slightly toxic in eukaryotic animals, with 25% substitution of the body water causing cell division problems and sterility, and 50% substitution causing death by cytotoxic syndrome (bone marrow failure and gastrointestinal lining failure). Prokaryotic organisms, however, can survive and grow in pure heavy water (though they grow more slowly). Consumption of heavy water would not pose a health threat to humans unless very large quantities (in excess of 10 liters) were consumed over many days.[citation needed] Small doses of heavy water (a few grams in humans, containing an amount of deuterium comparable to that normally present in the body) are routinely used as harmless metabolic tracers in humans and animals.

Quantum Properties

The deuteron has spin +1 and is thus a boson. The NMR frequency of deuterium is significantly different from common light hydrogen. Infrared spectroscopy also easily differentiates many deuterated compounds, due to the large difference in IR absorption frequency seen in the vibration of a chemical bond containing deuterium, versus light hydrogen. The two stable isotopes of hydrogen can also be distinguished by using mass spectrometry.

Nuclear properties

Deuterium is one of only four stable nuclides with an odd number of protons and odd number of neutrons. (2H, 6Li, 10B, 14N; also, the long-lived radioactive nuclides 40K, 50V, 138La, 180mTa occur naturally.) Most odd-odd nuclei are unstable with respect to beta decay, because the decay products are even-even, and are therefore more strongly bound, due to nuclear pairing effects. Deuterium, however, benefits from having its proton and neutron coupled to a spin-1 state, which gives a stronger nuclear attraction; the corresponding spin-1 state does not exist in the two-neutron or two-proton system, due to the Pauli exclusion principle which would require one or the other identical particle with the same spin to have some other different quantum number, such as orbital angular momentum. But orbital angular momentum of either particle gives a lower binding energy for the system, primarily due to increasing distance of the particles in the steep gradient of the nuclear force. In both cases, this causes the di-proton and di-neutron nucleus to be unstable.