Discuss in detail, one way in which atomic nuclear decay takes place.Discuss in detail, one way in which atomic nuclear decay takes place. What is the significance of atomic nuclear decay? Analyze...

Discuss in detail, one way in which atomic nuclear decay takes place.

Discuss in detail, one way in which atomic nuclear decay takes place. What is the significance of atomic nuclear decay? Analyze the societal implications of using this process.

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mlsiasebs | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Nuclear decay takes place in multiple ways (see link below).  In each path, we see the emission of energy and usually the emission of a particle.  When a particle is emitted, it changes the identity and/or mass of an atom.  Since the identity of an element is based on the number of protons, changing the number of protons will result in a different atoms, an effect which can only happen in a nuclear reaction.

One example of nuclear decay occurs with U-238 which emits an alpha particle.  An alpha particle looks just like a helium atom with 2 protons and 2 neutrons (for a mass of 4).

Uranium-238 has a mass of 238 and 92 neutrons.  When it emits an alpha particle, we end up with an atom with a mass of 234 and 90 protons, which is thorium-234. 

Sources:
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mlsiasebs | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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(continued from previous post) We also see other kinds of nuclear decay such as Beta particle emission.  A beta particle looks like an electron and atoms that emit a beta particle will not change their mass but will change their number of protons by adding 1 because a neutron is converted to a proton.  While this changes the identity of the atom, it does not change the mass of the atom. 

Potassium-40 (19 protons, 21 neutrons) undergoes beta particle emission and becomes calcium-40 (20 protons, 20 neutrons).  When looking at nuclear equations we need to make sure that the mass number and the number of protons is balanced.

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