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# Chapter 11

Nuclear Physics
The nucleus
 The nucleus occupies the very center of the
atom.
 It is tiny yet incredibly dense:
 More than 99.9% of the atom’s mass is
compressed into roughly one-trillionth of its
total volume.
 The nucleus is impervious to the chemical
and thermal processes that affect its
electrons.

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The nucleus, cont’d
 The nucleus contains two type of particles.
 The proton and neutron.
 These particles have a mass about 1,840
times the
electron mass.

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The nucleus, cont’d
 It is convenient to introduce an appropriate
unit of mass, called the atomic mass unit, u:
−27
1 u = 1.66 × 10 kg

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The nucleus, cont’d
 Recall that the number of protons in the
nucleus is given by the atomic number, Z.
 This number identifies the type of atom.
 The neutrons play a smaller role in
determining the properties of the atom.
 Their effect is mainly on the atom’s mass.
 The neutron number, N, is the number of
neutrons contained in a nucleus.

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The nucleus, cont’d
 The mass number, A, is the total number of
protons and neutrons in a nucleus.

A=Z +N
 We omit the electron’s mass because it so small
compared to the proton’s and neutron’s.
 Protons and neutrons are collectively referred
to as nucleons.

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The nucleus, cont’d
 Each element has a given number of protons
but can have different numbers of neutrons.
 Each different possible “type” of atom is
called an isotope.
 Isotopes of a given element have the same
number of protons in the nucleus but a
different number of neutrons.
 Different isotopes have essentially the same
atomic properties but different nuclear
properties.
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The nucleus, cont’d
 Most of the 114 different elements have
several isotopes.
 Some have only a few: hydrogen has 3.
 Others have many: iodine, mercury and silver
have more than 20.
 More than 2,500 different isotopes have been
identified and studied.
 Only about 300 of these occur naturally.

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The nucleus, cont’d
 The different isotopes of carbon are
carbon-12, carbon-13, and carbon-14.
 The different isotopes of hydrogen have
special names:
 hydrogen-2 is called deuterium.
 hydrogen-3 is called tritium.

##  Isotopes play no role in chemical reactions.

 They are pivotal for understanding nuclear
reactions.
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The nucleus, cont’d
 We use a special notation to represent each
isotope.
 The element’s chemical symbol is used.
 A subscript to the left of the chemical symbol
represents the atom’s atomic number Z.
 A superscript to the left of the chemical symbol
represents the atom’s atomic mass A.
Helium-4 4 Carbon-14 14
2He 6C
Carbon-12 12 Uranium-235 235
C
6 92U
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The nucleus, cont’d
 Notice that the subscript, the atomic number,
must always agree with the chemical symbol.
 If the subscript is 6, the symbol must be for
carbon, C.
 The number of neutrons can be found by
subtracting the atomic number from the
atomic mass:
235
92 U ⇒ N = 235 − 92 = 143

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The nucleus, cont’d
 We use a similar notation for atomic particles.
1
Neutron 0 n
1
Proton 1 p
0
Electron -1 e
 The superscript is the mass in atomic units.
 Zero for the electron since it is so small.
 The subscript is the electric charge.
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The nucleus, cont’d
 The nuclear strong force is responsible for
binding protons in the nucleus against the
electromagnetic force.
 Since protons are positively charged, they
repel each other.
 At such short range, the electric force is
tremendous.
 The nuclear force that “overpowers” the
electric force was therefore given the name
the strong force.
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occurs when an unstable nucleus emits
 Isotopes with unstable nuclei are called
 The majority of all isotopes are radioactive.

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 This diagram shows
the number of
neutrons versus the
number of protons
in the isotopes.
 Stable isotopes are
indicated by a small
square.

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 There are three types of nuclear radiation:
nuclei.
 Two protons and two neutrons.
 Has a positive electric charge.
electrons.
 Has a negative electric charge.
 Has no electric charge.
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 The type of radiation can be determined by
passing it through a magnetic field.
 Since each type
has a different
electric charge,
they are deflected
differently by the
magnet.

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 The most common type of radiation detector
is the Geiger counter.
 The radiation ionizes the gas in a cylinder.
 The freed electrons are acceleration to the red
wire and
produce a
current pulse.
 That pulse is
counted.

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Alpha decay
 Alpha decay occurs when an unstable
nucleus ejects an alpha particle.
 Recall that an alpha particle is just a helium
nucleus.
 two protons and two neutrons.

alpha particle : α or 4
2 He
 The nucleus did not contain an alpha particle.
 This is just a stable collection of particles that
can be ejected.
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Alpha decay, cont’d
 The emission of an alpha particle:
 Reduces the number of particles by 4.
 The nuclear mass is reduced by 4 u.
A → A− 4
 It reduces the number of protons by two, and
Z → Z −2
 It reduces the number of neutrons by two.
N → N −2

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Alpha decay, cont’d
 Here is a diagram illustrating alpha decay.
 We obtain:
 a uranium nucleus, and
 an alpha particle.

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Alpha decay, cont’d
 Alpha decay results in a drastic change in the
mass of the nucleus.
 It typically occurs in radioisotopes with high
atomic numbers.
 The ejected alpha particle is quickly absorbed
by matter.
 A sheet of paper can stop it.

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Example
Example 11.1
decay. Write the reaction equations, and
determine the identity of the daughter
nucleus.

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Example
Example 11.1
The reaction is:
226 −4
226
88 Ra → He +4
2 88 −2 ?
→ He +
4
2
222
86 ?
→ He +
4
2
222
86 Rn
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Beta decay
 Beta decay occurs when an unstable nucleus
ejects a beta particle.
 Recall that an beta particle is just an electron
beta particle : β or 0
−1e
 The nucleus does not contain any electrons.
 A neutron is spontaneously converted into an
electron and a proton.
 The electron is ejected at high speed while the
proton remains in the nucleus.
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Beta decay, cont’d
 The emission of an beta particle:
 Keeps the atomic mass the same but changes
the type of nucleons.
 The nuclear mass is not changes.
A→ A
 It increases the number of protons by one, and
Z → Z +1
 It reduces the number of neutrons by one.
N → N −1
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Beta decay, cont’d
 Here is a diagram illustrating beta decay.
 We obtain:
 a nitrogen-14 nucleus, and
 an beta particle (electron).

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Beta decay, cont’d
 Beta decay results in (essentially) no change
of the nuclear mass
 It is typically a re-arranging of the type of
nucleons toward a more stable configuration.
 The ejected beta particle passes easily
through most matter.
 A sheet of lead provides a good shield against
beta particles.

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Example
Example 11.2
The isotope iodine-131 undergoes beta decay.
Write the reaction equations, and determine
the identity of the daughter nucleus.

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Example
Example 11.2
The reaction is:

131
53 I → e+ 0
−1
131
54 ?
→ e+ 0
−1
131
54 Xe

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Gamma decay
 Gamma decay occurs when an excited
nucleus ejects a gamma particle.
 Recall that an gamma particle is just a photon
in the gamma ray part of the EM spectrum.
gamma particle : γ
 The nucleus does not contain any photons.
 This decay is similar to an excited atom
emitting a photon.

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Gamma decay, cont’d
 The emission of an gamma particle:
 Keeps the atomic mass and atomic numbers
the same.
 The nuclear mass is not changes.
A→ A
 The number of protons remains the same.
Z →Z
 The number of neutrons remains the same.
N→N
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Gamma decay, cont’d
 Here is a diagram illustrating gamma decay.
 We obtain:
 a strontium nucleus in a lower energy level, and
 an gamma particle.

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Gamma decay, cont’d
 Gamma decay results in no change of the
nuclear mass
 It is simple the emission of a photon due to the
nucleus being in an excited state.
 The ejected gamma particle passes easily
through almost all matter.
 A brick of lead provides a reasonably good
shield against gamma particles.

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Applications
 Nuclear medicine makes use of radioisotopes
for diagnosis and treatment.
 Introducing a radioactive element into the
blood stream allows the blood flow to be
followed.
 Irradiating a tumor kills the tumor cells.

##  Gamma radiation is very effective for

sterilization.
 It kills virtually any organism it strikes.

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Applications, cont’d
 Some smoke detectors use radioactive
samples to monitor air particles.
 The sample ionizes the air which establishes a
current.
 The ions attach to smoke particles and
effectively
reduce the
current.
 The alarm
then triggers.
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Half-life
 Radioactive decay is a random process.
 An unstable isotope will decay but the exact
amount of time until it decays is unknown.
 To overcome this, we talk about how much of
a radioactive sample decays in a certain
amount of time.
 Half-life is the time it takes for half the nuclei
in a sample of a radioisotope to decay.
 The time interval during which each
nucleus has a 50% probability of decaying.
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Half-life, cont’d
 This table shows the
half-life for several
isotopes.
 Notice that the half-
lives range from
extraordinarily short
(2×10-21 s) to
extremely long
(4.5×109 yr).

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Half-life, cont’d
 It is infeasible to count how many nuclei are
left after a given time interval.
 But a Geiger counter can indicate how quickly

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Half-life, cont’d
 Knowing the half-life is very useful.
 Smoke detectors routinely use americium-241
since it has a half-life of 432 yrs.
 Enough time to allow for proper operation for the
 Nuclear medicine uses technetium-99 since it
emits gamma rays with a half-life of 6 hours.
 More than enough time to track its passage
through the body.

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Carbon dating
 The regular rate of decay of a radioisotope
can be used to measure time.
 Carbon-14 dating uses the decay-rate of
carbon-14 to determine how long ago an
organism died.
 Carbon-14 is naturally created from nitrogen
in the upper atmosphere.

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Carbon dating, cont’d
 While a plant is alive, it absorbs carbon
dioxide from the air.
 CO2 could be made from C-12, C-13 or C-14.
 Some animals eat the plant, while other
animals eat the plant-eater.
 So each organism is continuously
replenishing the amount of C-14 in its body.
 Once the organism dies, no more C-14 is
consumed so the level of C-14 begins to
decrease.
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Carbon dating, cont’d
 This process can be used to determine how
long ago an organism died.
 We know the average amount of C-14 in a
living organism.
 We can measure the C-14 in a specimen.
 Comparing the values and knowing the half-
life, gives information on how long ago it died.

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Nuclear binding energy
 Imagine dismantling a nucleus by removing
each proton and neutron, one at a time.
 Measure the amount of work required to
remove each nucleon.
 The amount of energy required to assemble
the nucleus equals the work required to
disassemble it.
 This amount of energy is called the binding
energy.

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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 A convenient amount of energy is the amount
of binding energy per nucleon.

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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 Nuclei with mass numbers around 50 have
the highest binding energy per nucleon.
 This means the protons and neutrons are
more tightly bound to the nucleus.
 The nucleus is very stable.
 The idea of a nucleon being bound to the
nucleus is similar to a ball resting in a hole.
 You have to do work on the ball to get it out of
the hole.

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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 If the nucleons are not tightly bound to the
nucleus, a collision with another particle could
split the nucleus.
 A neutron might impact uranium-235 to create
barium-141 and krypton-92 (and three extra
neutrons).
 Such a process is called nuclear fission.
 Energy is released during this process.

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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 If two smaller nuclei collide, they might be
able to increase their binding energy if they
“stick” together.
 Hydrogen-1 and hydrogen-2 might combine to
form helium-3.
 Such a process is called nuclear fusion.
 Energy is also released in this process.

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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 Imagine combining a proton and a neutron.
 proton has 1.00785 u.
 neutron has 1.00869 u.
 After bonding,
the combination
has less mass
than the two
individual
nucleons.
 2.01410 u rather
than 2.01654 u. 49
Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 Einstein provided the reason for this:
E = mc 2

##  This formula means that energy and mass

are different forms of the same quantity.
 Energy can be converted into mass.
 Mass can be converted into energy.

##  This means that a hotter object (more energy)

has more mass than the same object at a
cooler temperature (less energy).
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Nuclear binding energy, cont’d
 This difference in mass between individual
nucleons and their combination, means we
can liberate enormous amounts of energy.
E = mc 2

(
= ( 0.00244 u ) 3 × 10 m/s )
2
8

(
= 4.0504 × 10 −30
)(
kg 9 × 10 m /s
16 2 2
)
−13
= 3.65 × 10 J. 51
Nuclear fission
 Nuclear fission is the process by which
nuclei split apart by absorbing a neutron.
 Fission is commonly accomplished by
 But alpha particles, gamma rays and protons
have also proved successful.
 The resulting fragments are called fission
fragments.

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 Two possible fission reactions of uranium-235
are:

1
0 n+ 235
92 U→
236
92 U
→141
56 Ba + Kr + 3 n
92
36
1
0

1
0 n+ 235
92 U→ 236
92 U
→ 140
54 Xe + Sr + 2 n
94
38
1
0

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 The amount of energy released during the
fission of one U-235 nucleus is 215 million
 By comparison, the average energy involved
in chemical process, e.g., metabolism in your
body, is about 10 electron-Volts fro each
molecule involved.

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 Two other important aspects of fission:
 The possible fission fragments are typically
 The ratio of neutron to protons is too high for
stability.
 These fragments are responsible for the
 The neutrons released by this process can
cause fission in other nuclei.
 This process is called a chain reaction.

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 An atomic bomb can be created by increasing
the density of radioisotopes so that a chain
reaction begins.
 One way to accomplish this is to force
together two pieces of uranium by an
conventional
explosive.
 You have a
critical mass
or U-235.
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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 Another approach is to
cause a single piece of
reach critical mass by
compressing it.
 This type of bomb
was dropped on
Nagasaki.
 The other was
dropped on Hiroshima.

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 Nuclear power plants need to be able to
control the reaction rate so a chain reaction
does not occur.
 First, a less-enriched sample of uranium is
used.

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Nuclear fission, cont’d
 Second, control rods are used to limit the
number of neutrons that can participate in the
fission process.

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Nuclear fusion
 Nuclear fusion is the process of combining
two nuclei to form a larger nucleus.
 Some common reactions are:
2
1H + H → H + n + 3.3 MeV
2
1
3
2
1
0
2
1H + H → He + 0 n + 17.6 MeV
3
1
4
2
1

1 H + 2 He → He + 1 p + 18.3 MeV
2 3 41
2

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Nuclear fusion, cont’d
 Energy is released in each case because the
total mass of the nucleons after the fusion is
less that the total mass before.

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Nuclear fusion, cont’d
 Stars obtain most of their energy from a
natural fusion reaction in the star’s interior.
 At the Sun’s core:
 the temperature is around 15 million degrees
Celsius, and
 the pressure is over one billion atmospheres.

##  These conditions force the hydrogen to fuse

into helium.
 Each second, more than 4 million tons of
matter are converted into energy.
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Nuclear fusion, cont’d
 Thermonuclear weapons fuse hydrogen to
generate their energy.
 To obtain the proper conditions for fusion,
they use a nuclear fission explosion to trigger
the fusion.
 A hydrogen bomb is to an atomic bomb what a
stick of dynamite is to a firecracker.

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Nuclear fusion, cont’d
 Controlled fusion is a technically challenging
problem.
 The conditions which must be met are:
 The nuclei must be raised to extremely high
temperature.
 The challenge here is to prevent such a hot
material from contacting the confinement vessel.
 The must be sufficient density to maintain the
fusion process.
 The plasma must be kept sufficiently dense so
there are sufficient number of fusions.
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Nuclear fusion, cont’d
 A current approach to accomplish this is
through the use of a tokamak device.
 Electromagnets are
used to confined the
plasma.
 Other approaches
use:
 laser beams to
increase pressure;
 pulsed-power to
“Z-pinch” a small
pellet.

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