Initiating a Fission Chain Reaction: What is Critical Mass?

Physics, Technology
[caption id="attachment_19651" align="alignright" width="600"] One basic fission reaction[/caption] What is critical mass? Before we answer that question, we want to discuss the topic of fission, itself. When we speak of atomic bombs, we do not usually mean hydrogen bombs or fusion bombs in which the nuclei of hydrogen atoms fuse together.¹ Rather, we mean fission bombs, in which large atoms of radioactive (unstable) elements are torn apart to produce smaller atoms with the release tremendous energy. One simple atomic explosion reaction is written, 1 n + 235U → [236U] → 92Kr + 141Ba + 3 n The above equation informs us that one energetic neutron properly striking an atom of uranium, isotope 235, produces, first and temporarily, an ordinarily stable atom of uranium, isotope 236. [caption id="attachment_19652" align="alignleft" width="300"] Uraninite…
Read More

Factors that Complicate Atomic Mass Determination

[caption id="attachment_8319" align="alignright" width="440"] Nucleus - CC-SA-3.0 by Marekich[/caption] Modern chemistry depends a good deal upon accurately knowing the atomic mass of each of the elements. What factors complicate determining those values? Each of the approximately 90 different natural-occurring elements possesses a nucleus or central core of protons and neutrons, in addition to electrons that orbit around the nucleus. It is important to the chemist or physicist to know the total mass of each element. Can correct values be obtained simply by summing the weight of individual particles in an atom? After all, each of these particles has a precisely known mass. The answer is, No! Such calculations disagree with experimental measurement. An example illustrates the point. Consider Helium-3 An atom of helium-3 has two protons, one neutron, and two…
Read More