Nuclear Notation

Standard nuclear notation shows the chemical symbol, the mass number and the atomic number of the isotope.


Example: the isotopes of carbon. The element is determined bythe atomic number 6. Carbon-12 is thecommon isotope,with carbon-13as another stableisotope which makes up about1%. Carbon 14 isradioactive and thebasis for carbon dating.


The mass of an element that is numerically equal to the atomic mass A in grams is called a mole and will contain Avogadro's number NA of nuclei. If the density r of the material is known, then the number of nuclei per unit volume n can be calculated from n =rNA/A. This is useful in calculating the cross section for nuclear scattering.

Atoms and elements
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Isotopes

The different isotopes of a given element have the same atomic number but different mass numbers since they have different numbers of neutrons. The chemical properties of the different isotopes of an element are identical, but they will often have great differences in nuclear stability. For stable isotopes light elements, the number of neutrons will be almost equal to the number of protons, but a growing neutron excess is characteristic of stable heavy elements. The element tin (Sn) has the most stable isotopes with 10, the average being about 2.6 stable isotopes per element.


Information about the isotopes of each element and their abundances can be found by going to the periodic table and choosing an element. Then take the link to nuclear data.

Nuclear notation
Example: isotopic abundances of krypton
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Nuclear Forces

Within the incredibly small nuclear size, the two strongest forces in nature are pitted against each other. When the balance is broken, the resultant radioactivity yields particles of enormous energy.


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The electron in a hydrogen atom is attracted to the proton nucleus with a force so strong that gravity and all other forces are negligible by comparison. But two protons touching each other would feel a repulsive force over 100 million times stronger!! So how can such protons stay in such close proximity? This may give you some feeling for the enormity of the nuclear strong force which holds the nuclei together.

Nuclear scale model
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Nuclear Size

The size of the nucleus compared to the size of the atom in which it resides is so small that it has invited a number of interesting comparisons. For example, the space inside an atom can be compared to the space in the solar system in a scale model. Scaling the gold nucleus suggests that the atomic radius is some 18,000 times the size of the nucleus. This great disparity in size was first discovered by Rutherford scattering of alpha particles off a thin gold foil. The extremity of this space comparison is highlighted by the fact that an atom with equal numbers of neutrons and protons, the nucleus comprises about 99.97% of the mass of the atom!

Experimental evidence suggests that nuclear matter is almost uniform density, so that the size of a nucleus can be estimated from its mass number.

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