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Boron-10 is a stable (non-radioactive) isotope of boron that is found naturally in significant amounts. It has a very high neutron capture cross section, which allows it to be used in boron neutron capture therapy for cancer. The isotope can also be produced as a metal by irradiating the element with fast neutrons to produce boron-11.
Usually, the relative atomic mass of an element is determined by the weighted average of its various isotopes on a scale in which carbon-12 weighs exactly 12 units. However, in some cases, the results of a mass spectrometer experiment can be skewed by memory effects and/or interference from impurities. Such biases are known as mass discriminations.
To avoid mass discrimination, it is important to use a scale that includes the most common isotopes of the element. A good choice is the atomic mass unit (U) scale, which contains the most common isotopes of all elements.
In a typical boron-10 sample, 80.3 percent is boron-11. In order to determine the approximate molar percentage of boron 11, we need to know the isotopic abundance, which is equal to its mass number in unified atomic mass units (U).
The U-scale is also the most accurate way of measuring the mass of an element when it has only two isotopes. For this example, let’s use a sample of boron trifluoride. The mass spectrum above shows that there are two peaks, with the height of the tallest peak being the relative isotopic abundance.