The chemical reactions that we have considered in previous chapters involve changes in the electronic structure of the species involved, that is, the arrangement of the electrons around atoms, ions, or molecules. Nuclear structure, the numbers of protons and neutrons within the nuclei of the atoms involved, remains unchanged during chemical reactions. This chapter will introduce the topic of nuclear chemistry, which began with the discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by French physicist Antoine Becquerel and has become increasingly important during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, providing the basis for various technologies related to energy, medicine, geology, and many other areas.
- 21.1: Nuclear Structure and Stability
- An atomic nucleus consists of protons and neutrons, collectively called nucleons. Although protons repel each other, the nucleus is held tightly together by a short-range, but very strong, force called the strong nuclear force. A nucleus has less mass than the total mass of its constituent nucleons. This “missing” mass is the mass defect, which has been converted into the binding energy that holds the nucleus together according to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation, E = mc2.
- 21.2: Nuclear Equations
- Nuclei can undergo reactions that change their number of protons, number of neutrons, or energy state. Many different particles can be involved in nuclear reactions. The most common are protons, neutrons, positrons (which are positively charged electrons), alpha (α) particles (which are high-energy helium nuclei), beta (β) particles (which are high-energy electrons), and gamma (γ) rays (which compose high-energy electromagnetic radiation).
- 21.3: Radioactive Decay
- Unstable nuclei undergo spontaneous radioactive decay. The most common types of radioactivity are α decay, β decay, γ emission, positron emission, and electron capture. Nuclear reactions also often involve γ rays, and some nuclei decay by electron capture. Each of these modes of decay leads to the formation of a new stable nuclei sometimes via multiple decays before ending in a stable isotope. All nuclear decay processes follow first-order kinetics and each radioisotope has its own half-life.
- 21.4: Transmutation and Nuclear Energy
- It is possible to produce new atoms by bombarding other atoms with nuclei or high-speed particles. The products of these transmutation reactions can be stable or radioactive. A number of artificial elements, including technetium, astatine, and the transuranium elements, have been produced in this way. Nuclear power as well as nuclear weapon detonations can be generated through fission (reactions in which a heavy nucleus is split into two or more lighter nuclei and several neutrons).
- 21.5: Uses of Radioisotopes
- Compounds known as radioactive tracers can be used to follow reactions, track the distribution of a substance, diagnose and treat medical conditions, and much more. Other radioactive substances are helpful for controlling pests, visualizing structures, providing fire warnings, and for many other applications. Hundreds of millions of nuclear medicine tests and procedures, using a wide variety of radioisotopes with relatively short half-lives, are performed every year in the US.
- 21.6: Biological Effects of Radiation
- We are constantly exposed to radiation from naturally occurring and human-produced sources. This radiation can affect living organisms. Ionizing radiation is particularly harmful because it can ionize molecules or break chemical bonds, which damages the molecules & causes malfunctions in cell processes. Types of radiation differ in their ability to penetrate material and damage tissue, with alpha particles the least penetrating, but potentially most damaging, and gamma rays the most penetrating.
- 21.E: Nuclear Chemistry (Exercises)
- These are homework exercises to accompany the Textmap created for "Chemistry" by OpenStax.
Contributors and Attributions
Paul Flowers (University of North Carolina - Pembroke), Klaus Theopold (University of Delaware) and Richard Langley (Stephen F. Austin State University) with contributing authors. Textbook content produced by OpenStax College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/85abf193-2bd...firstname.lastname@example.org).