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Topic : Nuclear Properties
The atomic nucleus is now known to be composed of protons and neutrons known as
nucleon. The number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus is its mass number
( ) A and the
number of protons is its atomic number
( ) Z . A nucleus, of chemical symbol X is uniquely
The atomic nuclei has some properties of interest:
- Nuclear Size: In general atomic nuclei have spherical shape with radius roughly given
where R =1.2 0.2fm R R A = ±
- Charge: - The electric charge distribution within the nucleus is the same as thenuclear
mass distribution Experimental results suggest that the ‘electrical radius of the nucleus’
and ‘nuclear matter radius’ are nearly the same.
- Nuclear Spin: For each nucleon orbital angular momentum .. and spin s combine to
the total angular momentum j The total angular momentum of a nucleus I is
therefore the vector sum of the angular momenta of the nucleons
j=l+s I= j odd-A: half-integer I, even-A: integer I
- Angular momentum: The angular momentum I has all of the usual properties of
quantum mechanical angular momentum vectors:
=- , - 1, ,
I I I
I m m I I L I
- The total angular momentum I is usually referred to as nuclear spin and the
corresponding spin quantum number I is used to describe nuclear states.
Nuclear stability is related to the number of nucleons constituting the nucleus. Stable nuclei
only occur in a very narrow band in the Z-N plane. All other nuclei are unstable and decay
spontaneously in various ways.
It is now well known that an atom
3.1. Basic Properties of the Atomic nucleus,
Charge and Mass of the Nucleus
The most important characteristics of a nucleus are its charge Z and its mass M. The charge
on the atomic nucleus is determined by the number of positive charges it contains. The carrier
of an elementary charge,
1.6021 10 e C
= × , on the nucleus is proton. Since an atom as a
whole is electrically neutral, the nuclear charge simultaneously determines the number of
electrons around the nucleus. In other words, chemical elements are identified by their
nuclear charge or, by their atomic numbers.
The mass of an atomic nucleus is practically the same as that of the entire atom because the
mass of the electrons in an atom is negligible. The mass of an electron is
1/1836 that of a
proton. It is customary to measure the mass of an atom in atomic mass units, abbreviated
amu. The atomic mass unit is equal to one-twelfth of the mass of the neutral
1u 1.6603 10 kg
Spin And Magnetic Moment of The Nucleus:
In atomic physics module you have seen that the spin of an electron results in the fine
structure of atomic spectrum. For atoms having one valence electron the relative orientation
of the orbital and spin moments of the electron leads to the splitting of all energy levels
(except the s-level) and as a result, to the splitting of spectral lines. With further improvement
of spectroscopic instruments, investigators were able to investigate such lines. It was found
that each of the two D-lines of sodium was in turn a doublet, that is , consisting of two very
closely spaced spectral lines.
Fig. D-lines of Na
Pauli suggested that the hyperfine structure might be due to an occurrence of angular
momentum in the atomic nucleus. The total angular momentum, or nuclear spin, along with
nuclear charge and nuclear mass, is the most important characteristic of the nucleus.
The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons each of which has spin 2 h . The nuclear
spin is the vector sum of the spin angular momenta of all the component particles. A ucleus
made up of an even number of nucleons has integral spin (in units of h ) or zero spin. In
addition to nuclear spin, the nucleus has a magnetic moment. Thus, all atomic particles (the
nucleus and electrons) have a magnetic moment.
The magnetic moment of a nucleus is determined by those of its component particles. By
analogy with the Bohr magneton, the magnetic moments of nuclei are expressed in terms of
the so-called nuclear magneton defined as
where N µ is the nuclear gyromagnetic ratio.
The nuclear model of the atom brought more questions than it answered when it was
forwarded. What is the composition of the nucleus? How can a nuclear atom become stable?
Answers to these questions could only be given after the discovery of various properties of
the nucleus, notably nuclear charge Z, nuclear mass, and nuclear spin.
The nuclear charge was found to be defined by the sum of the positive charges it contains.
Since an elementary positive charge is associated with the proton, the presence of protons in
the nucleus appeared to be beyond any doubt from the outset Two more facts were also
a. The masses of the isotopes (except ordinary hydrogen), expressed in proton mass
units, were found to be numerically greater than their nuclear charges expressed in
elementary charge units, this difference growing with increases in Z . For the
elements in the middle of the periodic Table the isotopic masses (in amu) are about
twice as great as the nuclear charge. The ratio is still greater for the heavier nuclei.
Hence one was forced to think that the protons were not the only particles that make
up the nucleus.
b. The masses of the isotopic nuclei of all chemical elements suggested two possibilities,
either the particles making up the nucleus had about the same mass, or the nucleus
contained particles differing in mass to a point where the mass of some was negligible
in comparison with that of the others, theta is, their mass did not contribute to the
isotopic mass to any considerable degree.
The latter possibility appeared especially attractive because it fitted nicely with the proton-
electron model of the nucleus. That the nucleus might contain electrons seemed to follow
from the fact that natural beta-decay is accompanied by the emission of electrons. The
proton-electron model also explained the fact why the isotopic atomic weights were nearly
integers. According to this model, the mass of the nucleolus should be partially equal to the
masses of the protons that make it up, because the electronic mass is about 1/2000
the proton. The number of electrons in the nucleus must be such that the total charge due to
the positive protons and the negative electrons is the true positive charge of the nucleus.
For all its simplicity and logic, the proton-electron model was refuted by advances in nuclear
physics. In fact, it ran counter to the most important properties of the nucleus.
If the nucleus contained electrons, the nuclear magnetic moment would be of the same order
of magnitude as the electronic Bohr magneton Notice that the nuclear magnetic moment is
defined by the nuclear magneton which is about 1/2000
the electronic magneton.
Data on nuclear spin also witnessed against the proton-electron model. For example,
according to this model the beryllium nucleus,
Be , would contain nine protons and five
electrons so that the total charge would be equal to four elementary positive charges. The
proton and the electron have each a half-integral spin, h/2. The total spin of the nucleus made
up of 14 particles (nine protons and five electrons) would have to be integral. Actually, the
Be , has half-integral spin of magnitude 3h/2. Many more examples
might be cited.
Last but not least, the proton-electron model conflicted with the Heisenberg uncertainty
principle. If the nucleus contained electrons, then the uncertainty in the electron position, , x A
would be comparable with the linear dimensions of the nucleus, that is,
us choose the greater value,
A = From the Heisenberg uncertainty relation for the
electron momentum we have
ΔP>>h/Δx>>10 =10 kg m/s
The momentum P is directly related to its uncertainty, that is : P P P A ~ A Once the
momentum of the electro is known, one can readily find its energy. Since in the above
P>>m c 10 kg 3 10 m/s
= × × , one should use the relativistic relation for energy
2 2 2 2 4
E =c p +m c
Then we get
2 2 8 38 30 8 2
3 10 10 (10 3 10 )
2 10 200
E c p m c
= + = × + × ×
~ × =
This figure is greatly in excess of that (7-8MeV)found for the total binding energy by
experiment and is many times the energy of electrons emitted in beta-decay. If, on the other
hand, the electrons in the nucleus were assumed to have the energy comparable with that
associated with the particles emitted in beta-decay (usually a few MeV), then the region
where the electrons must be localized, that is, the size of the nucleus as found from the
uncertainty relations would be much greater than that found by observation.
A way out was found when in 1932 Chadwick discovered a new fundamental particle. From
an analysis of the paths followed by the particles produced in some nuclear reactions and
applying the law of conservation of energy and momentum, Chadwick concluded that these
paths could only be followed by a particle with a mass slightly greater than that of the proton
and with a charge of zero. Accordingly, the new particle was called the neutron.
According to the present views, a nucleus consists of nucleons: protons and neutrons. As the
mass of a nucleon is about 2000 times the mass of an electron the nucleus carries practically
all the mass of an atom
A nuclid is a specific combination of a number of protons and neutrons. The complete
symbol for a nuclide is written as:
where X is the chemical symbol of the element, Z is the atomic number, giving the number
of protons in the nucleus. A is the totla number of nucleons in the nuclues. It is also known
as the mass number. N A Z = ÷ is the number of neutrons.
In nucleus physics it is said that the proton and the neutron are two charge states of the same
particle, the nucleon. The proton is the protonic state of the nucleon with a charge +e, and
the neutron is its neutronic state with zero charge. According to the latest data, the rest mass
of a proton and of a neutron respectively is
m =1.0075975±0.000001 amu=(1836.09±0.01)m
m =1.008982±0.000003 amu=(1838.63±0.01)m
The proton and the neutron have the same mass number equal to unity. In the nucleus, the
nucleons are in states substantially differing from their free states. This is because in all
nuclei, except that of ordinary hydrogen, there are at least two nucleons between which a
special nuclear interaction or coupling exists.
The proton-neutron model of the nucleus accounts for both the observed values of isotopic
masses and, the magnetic moments of the nuclei. For, since the magnetic moments of the
proton and the neutron are of the same order of magnitude as the nuclear magneton, it follows
that a nucleus built up of nucleons should have a magnetic moment of the same order as the
nuclear magneton. Therefore, with protons and neutrons as the building blocks of nuclei, the
magnetic moment should be of the same order of magnitude. Observations have confirmed
10 m 1 fm (femto meter = fermi) =
is the typical length scale of nuclear physics.
Also with protons and neutrons as the constituents of nuclei, the uncertainty principle leads to
reasonable value of energy for these particles in a nucleus, in full agreement with the
observed energies per particle
Finally, with the assumption that nuclei are composed of neutrons and protons, the difficulty
arising from nuclear spin has likewise been resolved. For if a nucleus contains an even
number of nucleons, it has integral spin (in units of ). With an odd number of nucleons, its
spin will be half-integral (in units of ).
3.2. Nuclear Binding Energy
Atomic nuclei containing positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons make up stable
systems despite the fact that the protons experience Coulomb repulsion. The stability of
nuclei is an indication that there must be some kind of binding force between the nucleons.
The binding force can be investigated on the energy basis alone, without invoking any
considerations concerning the nature and properties of nuclear forces.
An idea about the strength of a system can be gleaned from the effort required to break it up
i.e. to do work against the binding. This approach leads to several important facts about the
forces that hold the nucleons in a nucleus.
The energy required to remove any nucleon from the nucleus is called the binding (or
separation) energy of that nucleon in the nucleus. It is equal to the work that must be done in
order to remove the nucleon from the nucleus without imparting it any kinetic energy. The
total binding energy of a nucleus is defined as the amount of work that must be done in order
to break up the nucleus into its constituent nucleons. From the law of conservation of energy
it follows that in forming a nucleus, the same amount of energy must be released as is put in
to break it up.
The magnitude of the binding energy of nuclei may be estimated from the following
considerations. The rest mass of any permanently stable nucleus has been found to be less
than the sum of the rest masses of the nucleons that it contains. It appears as if in “packing
up’’ to form a nucleus the protons and neutrons lose some of their masses.
An explanation of this phenomenon is given by the special theory of relativity. This fact is
accounted for by the conversion of part of the mass energy of the particles into binding
energy. The rest energy of a body,
E , is related to its rest mass
E =m c
where c is the velocity of light in a vacuum. Designating the energy given upon the
formation of a nucleus as
E A , then the mass equivalent of the total binding energy
Δm =ΔE /c
is the decrease in the rest mass as the nucleons combine to make up the nucleus. The quantity
m A is also known as mass defect or mass decreament. If a nucleus of mass M is composed
of a number Z of protons with a mass
m and of a number A-Z of neutrons with a mass
m A is given by
o p n
Δ m =Zm +(A-Z)m -M
m A gives a measure of the binding energy:,
b 0 p n
ΔE =Δm c =[Zm +(A-Z)m -M]c
In nuclear physics, energies are expressed in atomic energy units (aeu) corresponding to
atomic mass units:
2 16 2 2
1aeu = c 1amu = 9 10 m /s 1.660kg
= 1.491 10 J
× × ×
Thus, in order to find the binding energy in MeV, one should use the equation
b p n
ΔE =[Zm +(A-Z)m -M] 931.1MeV ×
Where the masses of the nucleons and the mass of the nucleus are expressed in atomic mass
units. On the average, the binding energy per nucleon is about 8MeV, which is a fairly large
Fig: A plot of the binding energy per nucleon as a function of mass number A
As is seen from the plot, the strength of binding varies with the mass number of the nuclei.
The binding is at its strongest in the middle of the periodic Table, in the range 28<A<138,
that is, from
Si to Ba. In these nuclei, the binding energy is very close to 8.7 MeV. With
further increases in the number of nucleons in the nucleus, the binding energy per nucleon
decreases. For the nuclei at the end of the periodic Table (for example, uranium),
about 7.6 MeV.
In the region of small mass numbers, the binding energy per nucleon shows characteristic
maximua and minima. Minima in the binding energy per nucleon are shown by nuclei
containing an odd number of protons and neutrons, such as
6 10 14
3 5 7
Li, B and N
Maxima in the binding energy per nucleon are associated with nuclei having an even number
of protons and neutrons, such as
4 12 16
2 6 8
He, C and O.
The general course of the curve gives a clue to the mechanisms by which nuclear energy is
released. We find that nuclear energy can be released either by the fission of heavy nuclei and
the fusion of light nuclei from still lighter ones. It is clear from general considerations that
energy will be released in nuclear reactions for which the binding energy per nucleon in the
end products exceeds the binding energy per nucleon in the original nuclei.
3.2. Nuclear Stability
Not all nuclei are stable. Unstable nuclei undergo radioactive decay into different nuclei.
Stable nuclei have approximately equal numbers of neutrons and protons N Z = for small
20 A< and a small excess of neutrons for large A as shown in the diagram.
The Pauli exclusion principle helps to understand the fact that nuclei with equal Nand Z are
stable. Imagine filling a 1-deminsional box with protons and neutrons. We want the minimum
energy configuration for a given value of A, say 5. Since both neutrons and protons have
spin ½ they are fermions (like electrons) and so obey the Pauli exclusion principle. This
principle restricts the number of protons and neutrons to 2 of each at each energy level.
Recall that the energy of the nth energy in a 1-dimensional box is given by
E n E = , where
E is the energy of the round level.
If all 5 nucleons were neutrons, the total energy of the nucleus would be
( ) ( )
9 2 4 2 1 19 E E + × + × = (
as shown in diagram A. In contrast, if 3 were neutrons and 2
were protons (as shown in B), the energy would be
4 4 1 8 E E + × = (
which is far less.
This simple picture shows that it is more favourable energetically to have N Z
If we include the Coulomb repulsion between the protons, the energy levels of the protons
become higher than the energy levels of the neutrons. As A increases, it becomes more
favourable to have a small excess of neutrons.
Some elements have more stable isotopes than others. The elements with the most number of
stable isotopes have Z values of 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82 and 126. These are called magic
numbers, as the reason for stability was not understood at the time they were discovered. For
( ) 20 Z = has 6 stable isotopes whereas potassium
( ) 19 Z = and scandium
( ) 21 Z = have only 2 stable isotopes each. Similarly, nuclei with N equal to a magic number
have a larger than average number of isotones (an isotone has the same N value but a
different Z value).
Nuclei with are more tightly bound together and so they are at lower energy compared to the
rest. (Binding energy is analogous to the energy required to lift a bucket of water from a well.
A large binding energy means the water is low in the well, i.e. the water is at a low energy). If
two light nuclei with 60 A<< are brought together they create a new nuclei at lower rest
energy (this is called fusion). Also a heavy with 60 A>> can split into two nuclei of lower
rest energy (this is called fission).
3.3. Mass and I sotopic Abundance
Properties of the atomic nucleus, discussed in the prevous sections, binding energies; decay
rates, etc are the basic quantities determining the elemental and isotopic abundances in
The relative abundance of an isotope in nature compared to other isotopes of the same
element is relatively constant. The Chart of the Nuclides presents the relative abundance of
the naturally occurring isotopes of an element in units of atom percent. Atom percent is the
percentage of the atoms of an element that are of a particular isotope. Atom percent is
abbreviated as a/o. For example, if a cup of water contains
8.23 10 ×
atoms of oxygen, and
the isotopic abundance of oxygen-18 is 0.20%, then there are
1.65 10 × atoms of oxygen-
18 in the cup.
The atomic weight for an element is defined as the average atomic weight of the isotopes of
the element. The atomic weight for an element can be calculated by summing the products of
the isotopic abundance of the isotope with the atomic mass of the isotope.
Calculate the atomic weight for the element lithium. Lithium-6 has an atom percent
abundance of 7.5% and an atomic mass of 6.015122 amu. Lithium-7 has an atomic
abundance of 92.5% and an atomic mass of 7.016003 amu.
( )( ) ( )( ) Atomic Mass Lithium = 0.75 6.015122amu 0.925 7.016003 amu
The other common measurement of isotopic abundance is weight percent (w/o). Weight
percent is the percent weight of an element that is a particular isotope. For example, if a
sample of material contained 100 kg of uranium that was 28 w/o uranium-235, then 28 kg of
uranium-235 was present in the sample.
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