Gamow Explains Radioactive Alpha Decay (Great Events: 1900-2001)
Article abstract: George Gamow applied the newly developed quantum mechanics to the atomic nucleus to explain alpha decay and founded the field of nuclear physics.
Solving the Atom Puzzle
In 1911, Ernest Rutherford’s experiments, in which he bounced alpha particles off the atoms of a very thin gold foil, showed that all the positive charge and more than 99 percent of the mass of atoms is concentrated in a tiny central region of the atom called the “nucleus.” The diameter of the nucleus is 1/100,000 of the diameter of the atom. By 1913, Niels Bohr had developed a model of the atom in which the negatively charged electrons orbited the nucleus in specific allowed orbits. Bohr's model explained Rutherford's results and accurately predicted certain atomic spectra.
Bohr’s theory left an unanswered question: Why are electrons allowed only in certain orbits? Answering this question showed that electrons must behave sometimes like waves and sometimes like particles. The laws of physics that govern objects that behave like waves and particles at the same time are called quantum mechanics.
In 1928, physicists had just developed mathematical techniques for doing calculations using the newly developed rules of quantum mechanics. In major European universities, young physicists eagerly applied quantum physics to the behavior of atoms in emitting light and in forming molecules. The university at...
(The entire section is 974 words.)
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