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Nuclear Chemistry

Nuclear reactions differ from other chemical processes in one critical way: in a nuclear reaction, the identities of the elements change. In addition, nuclear reactions are often accompanied by the release of enormous amounts of energy, as much as a billion times more than the energy released by chemical reactions. Moreover, the yields and rates of a nuclear reaction are generally unaffected by changes in temperature, pressure, or the presence of a catalyst.


Unlike a chemical reaction, a nuclear reaction results in a significant change in mass and an associated change of energy, as described by Einstein’s equation. Nuclear reactions are accompanied by large changes in energy, which result in detectable changes in mass. The experimentally determined mass of an atom is always less than the sum of the masses of the component particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) by an amount called the mass defect that corresponds to the nuclear binding energy.


Nuclei can undergo reactions that change their number of protons, number of neutrons, or energy state. Many different particles can be involved and the most common are protons, neutrons, positrons, alpha (α) particles, beta (β) particles (high-energy electrons), and gamma (γ) rays (which compose high-energy electromagnetic radiation). As with chemical reactions, nuclear reactions are always balanced. When a nuclear reaction occurs, the total mass (number) and the total charge remain unchanged.

Nuclear reactions that are induced are called nuclear transmutations.


The first conversion was performed by Rutherford in 1919.

Converted nitrogen-14 into oxygen-17 by bombarding with alpha particles from radium.



The particles must be moving fast to overcome the electrostatic repulsion between the charged particle and the charged nucleus. Particle accelerators (atom smashers) Fermi National accelerator laboratory in Batavia, Ill has a particle accelerator 6.3 km in circumference.



L. (2022, June 16). 21: Nuclear Chemistry. Chemistry LibreTexts. https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/General_Chemistry/Map%3A_Chemistry_-_The_Central_Science_%28Brown_et_al.%29/21%3A_Nuclear_Chemistry

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