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• Proton number of carbon =____

• The nucleon number of carbon =____
• So the number of neutrons in carbon nucleus

The manufacture of aluminium foil (for
cooking) is a good example.
A radioactive source is placed above the
foil and a detector below it.
• An atom is normally electrically neutral because it
has the same number of protons and electrons.

• If the atom was to become charged (become an ion)

it would have to either lose an electron to give an
overall positive charge, or gain an electron to give an
overall negative charge.

• When radiation passes through a material, it can

ionise the atoms of that material.
Radioactive detectors
Geiger-Müller tube ("GM tube")
• The tube is filled with Argon gas, and
around +400 Volts is applied to the thin
wire in the middle.
• When a particle enters the tube, it pulls
an electron from an Argon atom.
• The electron is attracted to the central
wire, and as it rushes towards the wire,
the electron will knock other electrons
from Argon atoms, causing an
• Thus one single incoming particle will
cause many electrons to arrive at the
wire, creating a pulse which can be
amplified and counted. This gives us a
very sensitive detector
Photographic film
• Workers in the nuclear industry wear "film
badges" which are sent to a laboratory to be
developed, just like your photographs. This
allows us to measure the dose that each
worker has received (usually each month).
• The badges have "windows" made of different
materials, so that we can see how much of the
radiation was alpha particles, or beta
particles, or gamma rays.
The Gold Leaf Electroscope
• Dry air is normally a good insulator, so a
charged electroscope will stay that way,
as the charge cannot escape.
• When an electroscope is charged, the
gold leaf sticks out, because the charges
on the gold repel the charges on the
metal stalk.
• When a radioactive source comes near,
the air is ionised, and starts to conduct
electricity. This means that the charge
can "leak" away, the electroscope
discharges and the gold leaf falls.
The Spark Counter
• An early form of detector, the Spark Counter is
another instrument that uses the ionising
effect of radioactivity, and for this reason it
works best with particles

• A high voltage is applied between the gauze

and the wire, and adjusted until it is just
below the voltage required to produce sparks.
• When a radioactive source is brought near,
the air between the gauze and the wire is
ionised, and sparks jump where particles pass
• The gamma rays that hit the
sodium iodine are absorbed.

• The sodium iodine then gives off

light flashes.

• These flashes of light are sensed by

a photomultiplier tube and an
electrical response is produces.

• The energy of the radiation is

proportional to the response
Nuclear decay
• Radioactive decay is the process by which an
unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by
emitting ionizing particles or radiation
• In the fission reactions, one neutron
starts the fission process, but three
neutrons are produced.

• If one of these neutrons bombards

another uranium-235 nucleus then
more fissions will occur, releasing more

• A chain reaction is produced.

Chain reaction
• A chain reaction is a self-sustaining reaction in
which the products of a reaction can initiate
another similar reaction.

• As uranium atoms continue to split, a significant

amount of energy is released during each reaction.
The heat released is

• harnessed and used to generate electrical energy.

Critical mass
• In order for a chain reaction to occur, the sample of
uranium must have a certain minimum mass known
as critical mass

• The neutrons produced in a fission reaction are very

fast neutrons. Slower neutrons are more easily
captured by the uranium nuclei. Graphite can act as
moderators to slow down the chain reaction to
occur at a smaller critical mass
How the Sun shines

Nuclear fusion is the energy

source of stars – just like
our own Sun.

It has a nuclear fusion

reactor at its core.
The immense pressure and
a temperature of 16 million
Celsius force atomic nuclei
to fuse and liberate energy.
About four million tonnes of
matter is converted into
sunlight every second.