The 14th International Conference on

Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

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Nuclear physics





 

Nuclear physics

Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied. Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a whole, including its electrons.

In the years that followed, radioactivity was extensively investigated, notably by Marie and Pierre Curie as well as by Ernest Rutherford and his collaborators. By the turn of the century physicists had also discovered three types of radiation emanating from atoms, which they named alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Experiments by Otto Hahn in 1911 and by James Chadwick in 1914 discovered that the beta decay spectrum was continuous rather than discrete. That is, electrons were ejected from the atom with a continuous range of energies, rather than the discrete amounts of energy that were observed in gamma and alpha decays. This was a problem for nuclear physics at the time, because it seemed to indicate that energy was not conserved in these decays.

In 1905 Albert Einstein formulated the idea of mass–energy equivalence. While the work on radioactivity by Becquerel and Marie Curie predates this, an explanation of the source of the energy of radioactivity would have to wait for the discovery that the nucleus itself was composed of smaller constituents, the nucleons.

The key experiment behind this announcement was performed in 1910 at the University of Manchester: Ernest Rutherford's team performed a remarkable experiment in which Geiger and Marsden under Rutherford's supervision fired alpha particles (helium nuclei) at a thin film of gold foil. The plum pudding model had predicted that the alpha particles should come out of the foil with their trajectories being at most slightly bent. But Rutherford instructed his team to look for something that shocked him to observe: a few particles were scattered through large angles, even completely backwards in some cases. He likened it to firing a bullet at tissue paper and having it bounce off. The discovery, with Rutherford's analysis of the data in 1911, led to the Rutherford model of the atom, in which the atom had a very small, very dense nucleus containing most of its mass, and consisting of heavy positively charged particles with embedded electrons in order to balance out the charge (since the neutron was unknown). As an example, in this model (which is not the modern one) nitrogen-14 consisted of a nucleus with 14 protons and 7 electrons (21 total particles) and the nucleus was surrounded by 7 more orbiting electrons.

Alexandru Proca was the first to develop and report the massive vector boson field equations and a theory of the mesonic field of nuclear forces. Proca's equations were known to Wolfgang Pauli who mentioned the equations in his Nobel address, and they were also known to Yukawa, Wentzel, Taketani, Sakata, Kemmer, Heitler, and Frohlich who appreciated the content of Proca's equations for developing a theory of the atomic nuclei in Nuclear Physics.

With Yukawa's papers, the modern model of the atom was complete. The center of the atom contains a tight ball of neutrons and protons, which is held together by the strong nuclear force, unless it is too large. Unstable nuclei may undergo alpha decay, in which they emit an energetic helium nucleus, or beta decay, in which they eject an electron (or positron). After one of these decays the resultant nucleus may be left in an excited state, and in this case it decays to its ground state by emitting high energy photons (gamma decay).

Much of current research in nuclear physics relates to the study of nuclei under extreme conditions such as high spin and excitation energy. Nuclei may also have extreme shapes (similar to that of Rugby balls or even pears) or extreme neutron-to-proton ratios. Experimenters can create such nuclei using artificially induced fusion or nucleon transfer reactions, employing ion beams from an accelerator. Beams with even higher energies can be used to create nuclei at very high temperatures, and there are signs that these experiments have produced a phase transition from normal nuclear matter to a new state, the quark–gluon plasma, in which the quarks mingle with one another, rather than being segregated in triplets as they are in neutrons and protons.

Some relatively small quantities of elements beyond helium (lithium, beryllium, and perhaps some boron) were created in the Big Bang, as the protons and neutrons collided with each other, but all of the "heavier elements" (carbon, element number 6, and elements of greater atomic number) that we see today, were created inside stars during a series of fusion stages, such as the proton-proton chain, the CNO cycle and the triple-alpha process. Progressively heavier elements are created during the evolution of a star.







 

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