Nuclear Physics Vocabulary

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Alpha decay
the radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom emits an alpha (helium) particle
Beta decay
occurs when a nucleus has too many neutrons for the protons present, a neutron converts to a proton, a negative electron is released, and an antineutrino is released
Gamma radiation
gamma photons are released by atoms which have just undergone a nuclear reaction when the excited new nucleus drops to its ground state
Isotope
atoms that have the same atomic number (amount of protons) but vary in atomic mass
Fission
occurs when an unstable heavy nucleus splits apart into two lighter nuclei, forming two new elements (can be induced by neutrons)
Mass defect
how much mass is destroyed when a nucleus is created from its component parts (generally much less than the mass of a proton or neutron but is still significant)
Moderator
material that slows down fast neutrons which are more likely to be absorbed by U235
Atomic number
the amount of protons in the nucleus of an atom
Fusion
occurs when two light nuclei come together to form a new nucleus of a new element (most energetic of all nuclear interactions/ occurs on the sun)
Control rods
absorb neutrons so that it slows down the process of the creation of U235
Quark
the elementary particle that makes up protons, mesons, and neutrons, and that together with leptons appears to make up all matter in the universe
Mass number
the sum of neutrons and protons in the nucleus of an atom
Chain reaction
a reaction event that stimulates additional reaction events to keep the process going (self-sustaining reaction)
Half life
the amount of time required for half the nuclei of a given quantity of a radioactive isotope to decay
Nuclear binding energy
the energy equivalent of the mass defect (converted to thermal energy in a fission reaction)
Strong nuclear force
force that holds the protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom
Categories: Atomic Physics