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.
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.
Energy transformation or energy conversion is the process of changing one form of energy to another. In physics, the term energy describes the capacity to produce certain changes within a system, without regard to limitations in transformation imposed by Entropy. Changes in total energy of systems can only be accomplished by adding or removing energy from them, as energy is a quantity which is conserved (unchanging), as stated by the first law of thermodynamics. Mass-energy equivalence, which arose from special relativity, says that changes in the energy of systems will also coincide with changes (often small in practice) in the system's mass, and the mass of a system is a measure of its energy content.
Energy in its various forms may be used in natural processes, or to provide some service to society such as heating, refrigeration, light, or performing mechanical work to operate machines. For example, an internal combustion engine converts the potential chemical energy in gasoline and oxygen into thermal energy which, by causing pressure and performing work on the pistons, is transformed into the mechanical energy that accelerates the vehicle (increasing its kinetic energy) and that pushes it up hills (increasing its gravitational potential energy)no its not. A solar cell converts the radiant energy of sunlight into electrical energy that can then be used to light a bulb or power a computer.
In nuclear physics, nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei collide at a very high speed and join to form a new type of atomic nucleus. During this process, matter is not conserved because some of the mass of the fusing nuclei is converted to photons (energy). Fusion is the process that powers active or "main sequence" stars.
The fusion of two nuclei with lower masses than iron (which, along with nickel, has the largest binding energy per nucleon) generally releases energy, while the fusion of nuclei heavier than iron absorbs energy. The opposite is true for the reverse process, nuclear fission. This means that fusion generally occurs for lighter elements only, and likewise, that fission normally occurs only for heavier elements. There are extreme astrophysical events that can lead to short periods of fusion with heavier nuclei. This is the process that gives rise to nucleosynthesis, the creation of the heavy elements during events such as supernovae.
Fusion power is the power generated by nuclear fusion processes. In fusion reactions, two light atomic nuclei fuse to form a heavier nucleus (in contrast with fission power). In doing so they release a comparatively large amount of energy arising from the binding energy due to the strong nuclear force which is manifested as an increase in temperature of the reactants. Fusion power is a primary area of research in plasma physics.
The term is commonly used to refer to potential commercial production of net usable power from a fusion source, similar to the usage of the term "steam power". The leading designs for controlled fusion research use magnetic (tokamak design) or inertial (laser) confinement of a plasma. Both approaches are still under development and are years away from commercial operation in which heat from the fusion reaction is used to operate a steam turbine which drives electrical generators, as in existing fossil fuel and nuclear fission power stations.
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is either a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of a particle splits into smaller parts (lighter nuclei). The fission process often produces free neutrons and photons (in the form of gamma rays), and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of radioactive decay.
Nuclear fission of heavy elements was discovered on December 17, 1938 by Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann, and explained theoretically in January 1939 by Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch. Frisch named the process by analogy with biological fission of living cells. It is an exothermic reaction which can release large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy of the fragments (heating the bulk material where fission takes place). In order for fission to produce energy, the total binding energy of the resulting elements must be greater than that of the starting element.
Muon-catalyzed fusion (μCF) is a process allowing nuclear fusion to take place at temperatures significantly lower than the temperatures required for thermonuclear fusion, even at room temperature or lower. It is one of the few known ways of catalyzing nuclear fusion reactions.
Muons are unstable subatomic particles. They are similar to electrons, but are about 207 times more massive. If a muon replaces one of the electrons in a hydrogen molecule, the nuclei are consequently drawn 207 times closer together than in a normal molecule. When the nuclei are this close together, the probability of nuclear fusion is greatly increased, to the point where a significant number of fusion events can happen at room temperature.