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First (wrong) ideas about nuclear structure (before 1932)

Mass values of light nuclei | multiples of proton mass (to few %)


(proton { nucleus of the hydrogen atom)

E decay: spontaneous emission of electrons by some radioactive nuclei

Hypothesis: the atomic nucleus is a system of protons and electrons

strongly bound together
Nucleus of the atom with atomic number Z and mass number A:
a bound system of A protons and (A Z) electrons
Total electric charge of the nucleus = [A (A Z)]e = Z e

Spin of the Nitrogen nucleus = 

Problem with this model: the Nitrogen anomaly

In Quantum Mechanics only integer or half-integer multiples of { (h S)

Spin: intrinsic angular momentum of a particle (or system of particles)

are possible:
integer values for orbital angular momentum (e.g., for the motion of atomic

both integer and half-integer values for spin

electrons around the nucleus)
Nitrogen nucleus (A = , Z = ):  protons +  electrons =  spin particles
Electron, proton spin = (measured)

Measured spin = (from hyperfine splitting of atomic spectral lines)



Neutron: a particle with mass | proton mass
but with zero electric charge
Solution to the nuclear structure problem:
Nucleus with atomic number Z and mass number A:
a bound system of Z protons and (A Z) neutrons James Chadwick

Nitrogen nucleus (A = , Z = ):  protons,  neutrons =  spin particles

Nitrogen anomaly: no problem if neutron spin =

total spin has integer value

Neutron source in Chadwicks experiments: a Po radioactive source
( MeV D particles ) mixed with Beryllium powder emission of

He + Be o C + neutron

electrically neutral radiation capable of traversing several centimetres of Pb:
D - particle
Basic principles of particle detection
Passage of charged particles through matter

(neutral atom o ion+ + free electron)

Interaction with atomic electrons ionization

(de-excitation o photon emission)

excitation of atomic energy levels

Mean energy loss rate dE dx

Ionization + excitation of atomic energy levels energy loss

proportional to (electric charge)

of incident particle
for a given material, function only
of incident particle velocity
typical value at minimum:
dE dx =   MeV (g cm)

in g cm to be independent of material

NOTE: traversed thickness (dx) is given

such as gases) multiply dE dx by density (gcm) to obtain dE dx in MeVcm

density (for variable density materials,
Residual range
Residual range of a charged particle with initial energy E

losing energy only by ionization and atomic excitation:
R Mc 2
1 M: particle rest mass
R dE MF ( v) v: initial velocity
dE / dx E0 Mc 2 / 1  ( v / c) 2

the measurement of R for a particle of known rest mass M

0 E0

is a measurement of the initial velocity

detection possible only in case of collisions producing charged particles

Passage of neutral particles through matter: no interaction with atomic electrons

Neutron discovery:
observation and measurement of nuclear recoils in an expansion chamber
filled with Nitrogen at atmospheric pressure
scattered neutron An old gaseous detector based
(not visible) on an expanding vapour;
ionization acts as seed for the
incident formation of liquid drops.
neutron recoil nucleus
(not visible) Tracks can be photographed
(visible by ionization) as strings of droplets
Plate containing
free hydrogen
(paraffin wax)

Recoiling Nitrogen nuclei

proton tracks ejected

from paraffin wax
Assume that incident neutral radiation consists
of particles of mass m moving with velocities v < Vmax
Determine max. velocity of recoil protons (Up) and Nitrogen nuclei (UN)
from max. observed range
m m From non-relativistic energy-momentum
Up = V UN = V conservation
m + mp max m + mN max mp: proton mass; mN: Nitrogen nucleus mass

From measured ratio Up UN and known values of mp, mN

determine neutron mass: m { mn | mp
Up m + mN
UN m + mp
Present mass values : mp = . MeV/c; mn = . MeV/c