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Chemistry LibreTexts

17: Radioactivity and Nuclear Chemistry

  • Page ID
    333787
    • 17.1: Diagnosing Appendicitis
    • 17.2: The Discovery of Radioactivity
      Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie, and Pierre Curie shared the discovery of radioactivity.
    • 17.3: Types of Radioactivity
      Nuclei can undergo reactions that change their number of protons, number of neutrons, or energy state. Many different particles can be involved and the most common are protons, neutrons, positrons, alpha (α) particles, beta (β) particles (high-energy electrons), and gamma (γ) rays (which compose high-energy electromagnetic radiation). As with chemical reactions, nuclear reactions are always balanced. When a nuclear reaction occurs, the total mass (number) and the total charge remain unchanged.
    • 17.4: The Valley of Stability- Predicting the Type of Radioactivity
      Many elements have at least one isotope whose atomic nucleus is stable indefinitely, but all elements have isotopes that are unstable and decay, at measurable rates by emitting radiation. Some elements have no stable isotopes and eventually decay to other elements. In contrast to the chemical reactions that were the main focus of earlier chapters and are due to changes in the arrangements of the valence electrons of atoms, the nuclear decay results in changes within atomic nuclei.
    • 17.5: Detecting Radioactivity
      When alpha, beta or gamma particles collides with a target, some of the energy in the particle is transferred to the target, typically resulting in the promotion of an electron to an “excited state”. In many “targets”, especially gasses, this results in ionization, and alpha, beta and gamma radiation is broadly referred to as ionizing radiation. A Geiger counter (or Geiger-Müller counter) takes advantage of this in order to detect these particles.
    • 17.6: The Kinetics of Radioactive Decay and Radiometric Dating
      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.
    • 17.7: The Discovery of Fission- The Atomic Bomb and Nuclear Power
      Many heavier elements with smaller binding energies per nucleon can decompose into more stable elements that have intermediate mass numbers and larger binding energies per nucleon. Sometimes neutrons are also produced. This decomposition is called fission, the breaking of a large nucleus into smaller pieces. The breaking is rather random with the formation of a large number of different products. Fission usually does not occur naturally, but is induced by bombardment with neutrons.
    • 17.8: Converting Mass to Energy- Mass Defect and Nuclear Binding Energy
      Unlike a chemical reaction, a nuclear reaction results in a significant change in mass and an associated change of energy, as described by Einstein’s equation. Nuclear reactions are accompanied by large changes in energy, which result in detectable changes in mass. The experimentally determined mass of an atom is always less than the sum of the masses of the component particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) by an amount called the mass defect that corresponds to the nuclear binding energy.
    • 17.9: Nuclear Fusion - The Power of the Sun
      Unlike a chemical reaction, a nuclear reaction results in a significant change in mass and an associated change of energy, as described by Einstein’s equation. Nuclear reactions are accompanied by large changes in energy, which result in detectable changes in mass. The experimentally determined mass of an atom is always less than the sum of the masses of the component particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) by an amount called the mass defect that corresponds to the nuclear binding energy.
    • 17.10: Nuclear Transmutation and Transuranium Elements
      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.
    • 17.11: The Effects of Radiation on Life
      The effects of radiation on matter depend on the energy of the radiation. Nonionizing radiation is relatively low in energy, and the energy is transferred to matter in the form of heat. Ionizing radiation is relatively high in energy, and when it collides with an atom, it can completely remove an electron to form a positively charged ion that can damage biological tissues.
    • 17.12: Radioactivity in Medicine and Other Applications
      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.

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