Most chemists pay little attention to the nucleus of an atom except to consider the number of protons it contains because that determines an element’s identity. However, in nuclear chemistry, the composition of the nucleus and the changes that occur there are very important. Applications of nuclear chemistry may be more widespread than you realize. Many people are aware of nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs, but nuclear chemistry also has applications ranging from smoke detectors to medicine, from the sterilization of food to the analysis of ancient artifacts. In this chapter, we will examine some of the basic concepts of nuclear chemistry and some of the nuclear reactions that are important in our everyday lives.
- 13.1 Radioactivity
- The major types of radioactivity include alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Fission is a type of radioactivity in which large nuclei spontaneously break apart into smaller nuclei.
- 13.2 Uses of Radioactive Isotopes
- Radioactivity has several practical applications, including tracers, medical applications, dating once-living objects, and preservation of food.
Thumbnail: Part of carbon–nitrogen–oxygen (CNO) reaction chain diagram, made just to be illustrative for nuclear reactions in general. Image used with permission (CC BY-SA 3.0; Michalsmid).