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Chemistry LibreTexts

15: Nuclear Chemistry

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  • Page ID
    64106
  • 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.

    • 15.0: Prelude to Nuclear Chemistry
      Many people think of nuclear chemistry in connection with the nuclear power industry and atomic bombs but do not realize that most smoke detectors rely on nuclear chemistry and save countless lives every year. The applications of nuclear chemistry may be more widespread than you think.
    • 15.1: 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.
    • 15.2: 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.
    • 15.3: Units of Radioactivity
      Radioactivity can be expressed in a variety of units, including rems, rads, and curies.
    • 15.4: Uses of Radioactive Isotopes
      Radioactivity has several practical applications, including tracers, medical applications, dating once-living objects, and preservation of food.
    • 15.5: Nuclear Energy
      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.
    • 15.E: Nuclear Chemistry (Exercises)
      These are exercises and select solutions to company Chapter 15 of the "Beginning Chemistry" Textmap formulated around the Ball et al. textbook.

    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).