Sulfur-33 and Other Radioisotopes of Sulfur

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sulfur-33 is the only naturally occurring isotope of sulfur with a nonzero spin (I = 3/2). It has a low natural abundance, a moderate quadrupole moment and a small magnetogyric ratio.

It is an important trace element for understanding the formation of sulfide ore deposits. It also has many other uses, including matches, gunpowder, medicines, rubber and pesticides.


Two of the most important radioactive isotopes of sulfur are the ones that are used in molecular biology: 32P and 35S. These radioactive isotopes are incorporated into nucleic acids to create DNA or RNA, but their half-lives are comparatively short.

In the laboratory, 32P can be useful in determining what molecules are present and how much of them there are. However, because of its relatively short half-life, 32P needs to be used quickly or it can disintegrate before you can get a good answer.

Using the 33S NMR spectrum, we found that the chemical shift of neat thiophene in carbon disulfide was -220 + 6; a similar shift was observed for 2- and 3-methylthiophene, while the 33S shift of tetrahydrothiophene, 1,1-dioxide was -36.7 ppm. When a solution of 5 mol dm-3 sulfolane was diluted from water to dioxane, a shift of 6.5 ppm was seen.

Our results suggest that the 33S NMR spectrum of sulfones is influenced by solvent choice. It is therefore necessary to choose a suitable solvent and dilution system carefully for each sample. This is especially true for benzothiophenes, which have a high tendency to polyatomic interference with 16O.

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