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A Look at Nuclear Science and Technology

Larry Foulke

Atomic and Nuclear Physics The Einstein Connection 2.3 Seeking Stability

Nuclear Stability (Proton Rich)


p p p p n p n n p p n p p Too many protons -or- nucleus too large Long-range repulsive Coulomb forces overpower shortrange attractive nuclear forces.

Nucleus is unstable. Nuclear Force (Attractive) Coulomb Force (Repulsive)


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Nuclear Stability (Neutron Rich)


Too many neutrons p p n n n n n n n n n p p
Significant asymmetry between the number of protons and number of neutrons creates an imbalance in the internal energy levels of the two types of nucleons.

Excess neutrons cause the nucleus to be at a higher than desired energy state.

Nucleus is unstable.

Nuclear Stability
p p p p n p n n p p n p p

Too many protons Unstable

p p n n n n n n n n n p p

Too many neutrons Unstable

n p n n p

p n

1< neutrons / protons <2 Stable!


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Chart of the Nuclides


UNSTABLE Proton Rich Too many Protons
Solution: convert protons to neutrons

Too many Nucleons


Solution: Emit particle or break apart.

Too many Neutrons


Solution: convert neutrons to protons.

UNSTABLE Neutron Rich

Image Source: See Note 1

Nuclear Stability
p n n n p n n n p n n n n n p n
Nature will always force unstable nuclei to DECAY into a more stable form. Three mechanisms for a nucleus to stabilize

p n n n p n n p

Break apart Emit a particle Change a neutron into a proton (or vice versa), usually accompanied by an emitted particle
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Nuclear Decay Modes


Decay Mode 1: Break apart.
Affects large nuclei that are unstable due to Coulomb forces within nucleus
Spontaneous Fission

Heavy nuclei spontaneously break apart into two smaller nuclei. Only occurs for nuclei with Z2/A 45 Frequently observed in isotopes of Pu and Cf. Low probability relative to Alpha decay.
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Nuclear Decay Modes


Decay Mode 2: Emit a nucleon(s)
Affects large nuclei that are unstable due to Coulomb forces within nucleus Possible types of nucleon emission decay:
Proton emission (rare) Double proton emission (rare) Neutron emission (rare) Alpha decay (common) Cluster decay (rare)
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Alpha Decay
Alpha Decay
Large, unstable, nuclei emit an alpha particle
Alpha particles

Mass = 4 amu, charge +2 Helium nucleus Decay mechanism for large, unstable atoms Most common decay mode for nuclei with Z > 90
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Image Source: See Note 2

Nuclear Decay Modes

Decay Mode 3: Change nucleon flavor


Most common type of decay for nuclei with Z < 90. All processes that change nucleon flavor are referred to as beta decay. Two basic modes of beta decay
Negative Turns a neutron into a proton Beta-Negative decay, double Beta-Negative Decay Positive Turns a proton into a neutron Positron emission, electron capture, double positron emission, double electron capture
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Negative Beta Decay


Beta Decay (Negative)
Affects unstable nuclei with more neutrons than protons. Nuclei changes neutron to proton and emits a beta particle and an antineutrino. Beta particles Mass << 1 amu, charge -1 Fast moving electron Neutrino Mass = 0, charge 0 Preserves angular momentum in beta decay. Irrelevant for us. Z increases by one

Image Source: See Note 3


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Positive Beta Decay


Positron Emission (Beta-Positive Decay)
Affects unstable nuclei with more protons than neutrons. Nuclei changes proton to neutron and emits a positron and a neutrino. Positron Mass << 1 amu, charge +1 Positively charged electron. Antimatter. Quickly annihilate with electrons in nature. Z decreases by one

Image Source: See Note 4

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Positive Beta Decay


Electron Capture (Beta-Positive Decay)
Affects unstable nuclei with more protons than neutrons. Nuclei captures an orbiting electron and changes a proton to neutron and emits a neutrino.
Does not emit a nucleon during

+ n

decay process.

p e
Image Source: See Note 4
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Nuclear Decay Modes


Nuclear Decay modes that you should know:
Alpha Decay (Z,A)(Z2, A4). Spontaneous Fission (Z,A)(Z1, A1) + (Z2, A2). Beta Decay (Z,A)(Z+1, A). Positron Emission (Z,A)(Z1, A).

Always remember:
Nuclear decay must conserve mass, charge, total energy and angular momentum (spin).
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Nuclear Decay Balance Eqns.


Shorthand notation for writing nuclear decay events Similar to chemical balance equations Examples 235 231 4 235 231 4 U Th + U Th + Alpha Decay: 92 or 92 90 2 90 2 He Beta Decay:
239 93 11 6

Np 239 94 Pu +

0 1

0 +0

11 0 + 0 C B + + Positron Emiss.: 5 1 0

Equation must always conserve mass and charge Typically dont list energy or momentum in these balance equations
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Nuclear Decay Balance Eqns. Example


Given Bi-210, write the balance equations for the following decays:
Alpha Beta

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Nuclear Decay Balance Eqns. Example


Bi-210 = Alpha Beta
210 83 Bi

210 83 Bi

A 4 Z X + 2 He

210 83 Bi

A 0 X + -0 + 0 1 Z

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Nuclear Decay Balance Eqns. Example


Bi-210 = Alpha Beta
210 83 Bi

210 83 Bi

4 X + A Z 2 He

210 83 Bi

A 0 0 -1 + Z X + 0

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Image Source Notes


1. Image adapted from DOE Fundamental Handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory, Volume 1 of 2. (1993). U. S. Department of Energy. DOE-HDBK-1019/193. http://www.hss.energy.gov/nuclearsafety/techstds/docs/ handbook/h1019v1.pdf Public domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alpha_Decay.svg Public domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Betaminus_Decay.svg Adapted from public domain image at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beta-minus_Decay.svg

2. 3. 4.