Chap02 - Nuclear ScienceA Guide to the Nuclear Science Wall...

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Nuclear Science—A Guide to the Nuclear Science Wall Chart ©2003 Contemporary Physics Education Project (CPEP) 2-1 Chapter 2 The Atomic Nucleus Searching for the ultimate building blocks of the physical world has always been a central theme in the history of scientific research. Many acclaimed ancient philosophers from very different cultures have pondered the consequences of subdividing regular, tangible objects into their smaller and smaller, invisible constituents. Many of them believed that eventually there would exist a final, inseparable fundamental entity of matter, as emphasized by the use of the ancient Greek word, atomos ( atom ) , which means “not divisible.” Were these atoms really the long sought-after, indivisible, structureless building blocks of the physical world? The Atom By the early 20th century, there was rather compelling evidence that matter could be described by an atomic theory. That is, matter is composed of relatively few building blocks that we refer to as atoms. This theory provided a consistent and unified picture for all known chemical processes at that time. However, some mysteries could not be explained by this atomic theory. In 1896, A.H. Becquerel discovered penetrating radiation. In 1897, J.J. Thomson showed that electrons have negative electric charge and come from ordinary matter. For matter to be electrically neutral, there must also be positive charges lurking somewhere. Where are and what carries these positive charges? A monumental breakthrough came in 1911 when Ernest Rutherford and his coworkers conducted an experiment intended to determine the angles through which a beam of alpha particles (helium nuclei) would scatter after passing through a thin foil of gold. Fig. 2-1. Models of the atom. The dot at the center of the Rutherford atom is the nucleus. The size of the dot is enlarged so that it can be seen in the figure (see Fig. 2-2). What results would be expected for such an experiment? It depends on how the atom is organized. A prevailing model of the atom at the time (the Thomson, or “plum- pudding,” atom) proposed that the negatively charged electrons (the plums) were mixed with smeared-out positive charges (the pudding). This model explained the neutrality of bulk material, yet still allowed the description of the flow of electric charges. In this model, it would be very unlikely for an alpha particle to scatter through an angle greater than a small fraction of a degree, and the vast majority should undergo almost no scattering at all.
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Chapter 2—The Atomic Nucleus 2-2 The results from Rutherford’s experiment were astounding. The vast majority of alpha particles behaved as expected, and hardly scattered at all. But there were alpha particles that scattered through angles greater than 90 degrees, incredible in light of expectations for a “plum-pudding” atom. It was largely the evidence from this type of experiment that led to the model of the atom as having a nucleus. The only model of the
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This note was uploaded on 09/26/2011 for the course PHYSICS 106 taught by Professor Arubi during the Summer '11 term at UCLA.

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Chap02 - Nuclear ScienceA Guide to the Nuclear Science Wall...

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