Atomic physics is the field of physics that studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and the processes by which these arrangements change. This includes ions as well as neutral atoms and, unless otherwise stated, for the purposes of this discussion it should be assumed that the term atom includes ions.
The term atomic physics is often associated with nuclear power and nuclear bombs, due to the synonymous use of atomic and nuclear in standard English. However, physicists distinguish between atomic physics — which deals with the atom as a system consisting of a nucleus and electrons — and nuclear physics, which considers atomic nuclei alone.
Nuclear chemistry is the subfield of chemistry dealing with radioactivity, nuclear processes and nuclear properties.
It is the chemistry of radioactive elements such as the actinides, radium and radon together with the chemistry associated with equipment (such as nuclear reactors) which are designed to perform nuclear processes. This includes the corrosion of surfaces and the behavior under conditions of both normal and abnormal operation (such as during an accident). An important area is the behavior of objects and materials after being placed into a nuclear waste storage or disposal site.
Molecular physics is the study of the physical properties of molecules, the chemical bonds between atoms as well as the molecular dynamics. Its most important experimental techniques are the various types of spectroscopy; scattering is also used. The field is closely related to atomic physics and overlaps greatly with theoretical chemistry, physical chemistry and chemical physics.
Additionally to the electronic excitation states which are known from atoms, molecules are able to rotate and to vibrate. These rotations and vibrations are quantized, there are discrete energy levels. The smallest energy differences exist between different rotational states, therefore pure rotational spectra are in the far infrared region (about 30 - 150 µm wavelength) of the electromagnetic spectrum. Vibrational spectra are in the near infrared (about 1 - 5 µm) and spectra resulting from electronic transitions are mostly in the visible and ultraviolet regions. From measuring rotational and vibrational spectra properties of molecules like the distance between the nuclei can be calculated.
Quantum chemistry is a branch of chemistry whose primary focus is the application of quantum mechanics in physical models and experiments of chemical systems. It involves heavy interplay of experimental and theoretical methods:
In these ways, quantum chemists investigate chemical phenomena.
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911 as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden under Rutherford's direction. The proton–neutron model of nucleus was proposed by Dmitry Ivanenko in 1932. Almost all of the mass of an atom is located in the nucleus, with a very small contribution from the electron cloud.
The diameter of the nucleus is in the range of 1.75 fm (1.75×10−15 m) for hydrogen (the diameter of a single proton)]not in citation given[ to about 15 fm for the heaviest atoms, such as uranium. These dimensions are much smaller than the diameter of the atom itself (nucleus + electron cloud), by a factor of about 23,000 (uranium) to about 145,000 (hydrogen).]citation needed[
A quantum mechanical system or particle that is bound—that is, confined spatially—can only take on certain discrete values of energy. This contrasts with classical particles, which can have any energy. These discrete values are called energy levels. The term is commonly used for the energy levels of electrons in atoms or molecules, which are bound by the electric field of the nucleus, but can also refer to energy levels of nuclei or vibrational or rotational energy levels in molecules. The energy spectrum of a system with such discrete energy levels is said to be quantized.
If the potential energy is set to zero at infinite distance from the atomic nucleus or molecule, the usual convention, then bound electron states have negative potential energy.
Internal conversion is a radioactive decay process where an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with an electron in one of the lower atomic orbitals, causing the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in an internal conversion process, a high-energy electron is emitted from the radioactive atom, but not from a nucleon in the nucleus. Instead, the electron is ejected as a result of an interaction between the entire nucleus and an outside electron that interacts with it. For this reason, the high-speed electrons from internal conversion are not beta particles, since the latter come from beta decay, where they are newly created in the process. Since no beta decay takes place during internal conversion, the element atomic number does not change, and thus (as is the case with gamma decay) no transmutation of one element to another is seen. However, since an electron is lost, an otherwise neutral atom becomes ionized. Also, no neutrino is emitted during internal conversion.
Internally converted electrons do not have the characteristic energetically spread spectrum of beta particles, which results from varying amounts of decay energy being carried off by the neutrino (or antineutrino) in beta decay. Internally converted electrons, which carry a fixed fraction of the characteristic decay energy, have a well-specified discrete energy. The energy spectrum of a beta particle is thus a broad hump, extending to a maximum decay energy value, while the spectrum of internally converted electrons has a sharp peak.
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the constituents and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those in nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging, ion implantation in materials engineering, and radiocarbon dating in geology and archaeology.
The field of particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics and is typically taught in close association with nuclear physics.