Unit 8: Nuclear Chemistry
Finally, let's examine the processes of nuclear decay, nuclear fusion, and nuclear fission. Unlike all other types of chemical reactions, which involve electrons, nuclear reactions involve the nucleus of the atom. In this unit we discuss different types of nuclear decay, learn how to write equations that describe nuclear reactions, review the concept of half-life in the context of radioactive decay, and learn how we use nuclear fission to generate electric energy.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.
8.1: Types of Nuclear Decay
First, let's discuss what it means for something to be radioactive and undergo nuclear decay. Nuclear decay can produce immense amounts of energy, and when nuclear decay occurs, the identity of the element changes. This is because nuclear decay involves changing the number of protons in the nucleus of the atom, which in turn changes the identity of the atom.
8.2: The Half-Life of Radioactive Isotopes
In this section we discuss the half-life of radioactive isotopes. The half-life is the time it takes half of the atoms in a sample to decay. The sample size does not matter: whether you have one gram or one ton of isotope, half of the sample will decay during the first half-life. The sample will continue to shrink by half during each successive half-life.
8.3: Nuclear Fusion, Nuclear Fission, and Energy Production
Finally, we will discuss the reactions nuclear fusion and fission and how we can use nuclear chemistry to produce energy. These types of nuclear reactions involve the process of transmutation, which is the conversion of one element into another. In this process we bombard the nucleus of stable isotopes with neutrons to achieve transmutation. Historically, we have used transmutation to synthesize new elements.