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Chemistry LibreTexts

11: Nuclear Chemistry

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    278484
  • 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.

    • 11.1: Nuclear Reactions
      Nuclear reactions are very different from chemical reactions. In chemical reactions, atoms become more stable by participating in a transfer of electrons or by sharing electrons with other atoms. In nuclear reactions, it is the nucleus of the atom that gains stability by undergoing a change of some kind. The energies that are released in nuclear reactions are many orders of magnitude greater than the energies involved in chemical reactions.
    • 11.2: The Discovery and Nature of Radioactivity
      In 1896, Henri Becquerel found that a uranium compound placed near a photographic plate made an image on the plate and reasoned that the compound was emitting some kind of radiation. Further investigations showed that the radiation was a combination of particles and electromagnetic rays, with its ultimate source as the atomic nucleus. These emanations were ultimately called, collectively, radioactivity. The major types of radioactivity include alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays.
    • 11.3: Stable and Unstable Isotopes
      In nuclear reactions, it is the nucleus of the atom that gains stability by undergoing a change of some kind. A radioisotope is an isotope of an element that is unstable and undergoes radioactive decay. The energies that are released in nuclear reactions are many orders of magnitude greater than the energies involved in chemical reactions. Unlike chemical reactions, nuclear reactions are not noticeably affected by changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature or pressure.
    • 11.4: Nuclear Decay
      Unstable nuclei spontaneously emit radiation in the form of particles and energy. This generally changes the number of protons and/or neutrons in the nucleus, resulting in a more stable nuclide. One type of a nuclear reaction is radioactive decay, a reaction in which a nucleus spontaneously disintegrates into a slightly lighter nucleus, accompanied by the emission of particles, energy, or both.
    • 11.5: Radioactive Half-Life
      Natural radioactive processes are characterized by a half-life, the time it takes for half of the material to decay radioactively. The amount of material left over after a certain number of half-lives can be easily calculated.
    • 11.6: Radioactive Decay Series
      The naturally occurring radioactive isotopes of the heaviest elements fall into chains of successive disintegrations, or decays, and all the species in one chain constitute a radioactive family, or radioactive decay series
    • 11.7: Ionizing Radiation
      The effects of radiation on matter are determined primarily by the energy of the radiation. Nonionizing radiation is relatively low in energy; when it collides with an atom in a molecule or an ion, most or all of its energy can be absorbed without causing a structural or a chemical change. In contrast, ionizing radiation is higher in energy, and some of its energy can be transferred to one or more atoms with which it collides as it passes through matter.
    • 11.8: Detecting Radiation
      Measurement of exposure to radioactivity is important for anyone who deals with radioactive materials on a regular basis. Perhaps the simplest device is a personal dosimeter - a film badge that will fog up when exposed to radiation. Alternatively, one can use a Geiger tube, that tracts electrons produced by ionization of a captive gas travels to the anode and the change in voltage is detected by the attached circuitry.
    • 11.9: Measuring Radiation
      We previously used mass to indicate the amount of radioactive substance present. However, this is only one of several units used to express amounts of radiation. Some units describe the number of radioactive events occurring per unit time, while others express the amount of a person's exposure to radiation.
    • 11.10: Artificial Transmutation
      Although the conversion of one element to another is the basis of natural radioactive decay, it is also possible to convert one element to another artificially. The conversion of one element to another is the process of transmutation.
    • 11.11: Nuclear Fission and Nuclear Fusion
      Nuclear energy comes from tiny mass changes in nuclei as radioactive processes occur. In fission, large nuclei break apart and release energy; in fusion, small nuclei merge together and release energy.