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Chemistry LibreTexts

Prelude to Nuclear Chemistry

A look back confirms that discoveries in nuclear chemistry and physics were the most important technical developments of the 20 th century.  The opportunities and questions that arise from nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are the primary legacy of these great inventions of the past.


In this unit we link the basic concepts of nuclear chemistry. We begin with Chadwick's discovery of the neutron and the rapid elucidation of the decay and fission of the heavy element atoms. From this science comes the realization that the energy produced can be used for weapons - a thought that crystallizes just as world war seems imminent in 1939. Finally, we describe the chemistry of the heavy elements and show how isolation of uranium isotopes and the discovery and isolation of the synthetic element plutonium leads to weapons in the hands of the Allies and ends World War II. 

We are left with the legacy of radiation and the fear of contamination, of only partial success in the generation of nuclear power, of widespread medical uses of radioisotopes and with the worldwide question, as yet unsolved as we race through the new millennium, of what we should do with nuclear by products.

Concept Map

Concept Map