Nuclear Reaction

In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is considered to be the process in which two nuclei or a nucleus with an external subatomic particle collide. They collide to produce one or more new nuclides. The reaction causes a transformation of at least one nuclide to another. If a nucleus interacts with another nucleus then they separate without changing the nature of any nuclide. This process is a type of nuclear scattering. A nuclear reaction involves more than two particles colliding. The nuclear reaction refers to a change in a nuclide that is induced by collision or to a spontaneous change of a nuclide without any collision.

Nuclear reaction

Introduction to Nuclear reaction

A nuclear reaction that occurs naturally is due to the interaction between cosmic rays and matter. A nuclear reaction is that is employed artificially is to obtain nuclear energy, at an adjustable rate and on-demand. Thou the most notable nuclear reactions are the nuclear chain reactions. It is in fissionable materials that produce induced nuclear fission. The various nuclear fusion reactions of light elements power the energy production of the Sun and stars.

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear fission is the splitting of an atomic nucleus. It splits into two or lighter nuclei. This process occurs through a nuclear reaction or radioactive decay. Nuclear fission reactions give a large amount of energy. This energy is accompanied by the emission of neutrons and gamma rays i.e., photons holding huge amounts of energy that is enough to knock electrons out of atoms.

Nuclear fission was given by the German chemists’ Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. The energy produced from fission reactions is converted into electricity that is in use in nuclear power plants. This is done by the heat produced from the nuclear reaction to convert water into steam. The steam is then used to rotate turbines to generate electricity.

Nuclear Fusion

In nuclear fusion reactions, at least two atomic nuclei combine or fuse into a single nucleus. Subatomic particles like neutrons or protons are formed as products of these nuclear reactions.

Other Important Types of Nuclear Reactions

Alpha Decay

Nuclei with mass numbers greater than 200 undergo alpha decay. It is a process in which an alpha particle is liberated from the parent nucleus.

Beta Decay

Beta-decay occurs when a neutron is converted into a proton. It is accompanied by the emission of a beta particle i.e., high-energy electron.

Gamma Emission

Gamma emission occurs when an excited nucleus returns to its ground state. It is accompanied by the emission of a high energy photon.

FAQs on Nuclear Reaction

Question 1: Why do Nuclear Reactions Release Tremendous Amounts of Energy?

Answer: The mass of an atomic nucleus is usually less than the sum of the individual masses of each subatomic particle that constitutes it that is protons and neutrons. This difference in mass is attributed to nuclear binding energy which is often referred to as a mass defect. Nuclear binding energy is the energy required to hold all the protons and neutrons within the nucleus.

During a nuclear reaction like fission or fusion reaction, the mass accounted for by the nuclear binding energy is released in accordance with the equation i.e., \(E = mc^2\) (energy = mass times the square of the speed of light).

In simple language, the products formed in nuclear fission and nuclear fusion always have a lower mass than the reactants. This missing mass is then converted into energy. A single gram of matter release approximately 90,00,00,00,000 kilojoules of energy.

Question 2: Name the processes that are not considered to be Nuclear Reactions.

Answer: The term nuclear reaction is in use to refer to the externally induced changes brought on to atomic nuclei. Following processes cannot be classified as nuclear reactions:

  • Nuclear scattering processes – It involves the collision and separation of atomic nuclei. It is without any notable changes in the composition. Only momentum and energy are transferred in this process.
  • Nuclear Decay – It is a process through which an unstable nucleus emits radiation in order to lose energy.
  • Spontaneous fission reactions – nuclear fission reactions that do not require a neutron to proceed and not induced.

Thou, these processes are similar to nuclear reactions.

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