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## MCAT

### Course: MCAT > Unit 8

Lesson 22: Atomic nucleus- Atomic nucleus questions
- Radioactive decay types article
- Decay graphs and half lives article
- Atomic number, mass number, and isotopes
- Atomic mass
- Mass defect and binding energy
- Nuclear stability and nuclear equations
- Writing nuclear equations for alpha, beta, and gamma decay
- Types of decay
- Half-life and carbon dating
- Half-life plot
- Exponential decay formula proof (can skip, involves calculus)
- Introduction to exponential decay
- Exponential decay and semi-log plots
- More exponential decay examples
- Mass spectrometer

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# Nuclear stability and nuclear equations

Using the ratio of neutrons to protons to figure out of a nucleus will be stable or radioactive. Created by Jay.

## Want to join the conversation?

- Where did the extra proton come from during the decay of 14C to 14N?(51 votes)
- A neutron decays into a proton, emitting an electron.(68 votes)

- At7:40, how does adding more neutrons cause the nucleus of the atom to be more stable? And what exactly is the 'strong force'?(16 votes)
- I think what Jay means is that as you add more neutrons to the nucleus the strong force is going to act, since the strong force only acts over short distances and by adding neutrons you get a denser nucleus with nucleons closer together.(4 votes)

- How is Cl 37 17 stable if its ratio is not 1?(5 votes)
- It seems that this ratio doesn't need to be precisely exact to work out. In this isotope of Cl we have a ratio of 1.17, which is pretty close to 1.

I have noticed that, even in the beginning of the periodic table, while some elements have their most stable isotopes with a ratio of 1, many of them show some slight changes, for example: Li-7 (1.3 ratio) is much more abundant than Li-6 (1 ratio);

Na-23 (1.09 ratio) counts for almost 100% of all Na... interestingly, not only is the Na-22 (ratio 1) extremely rare, but it’s unstable: it suffers a beta+ decay.

Hint: very nice to check for isotopes, their abundance and types of decay in the website: http://www.ptable.com(9 votes)

- Does fission count as a form of radioactive decay? It does release energy and change the nucleus(5 votes)
- Radioactive decay is spontaneous or natural transmutation while nuclear fission & fusion are induced transmutation/artificial with elements with an atomic number higher than 92. (Not 100% sure however).(8 votes)

- At4:23, how did carbon suddenly get another proton and become Nitrogen. Without an electron, it should Stay a Carbon isotope and become an ion (+1), right?(2 votes)
- In beta decay, one of the down quarks that composes a neutron (two down and one up quarks) in C-14 decays via the weak interaction into an up quark, leaving a proton (two up and one down quarks). The W⁻ boson from the weak interaction quickly decays into an electron and an anti-neutrino.(7 votes)

- When you added the neutron to the carbon, shouldn't it have made it more stable as there was more strong nuclear force compared to the electrostatic force? Also why can't there be a nucleus that is composed of only neutrons?(4 votes)
- neutrons by themselves are not stable. They will decay into protons, with a half life of about 10 minutes

When you add a neutron to C-13 to get C-14, yes there is more strong nuclear force but you have to consider the nucleus as a whole. You have all these particles trying to find a stable arrangement. When you add one more to the pile, even if it will "stick" because of strong nuclear force, it changes the overall arrangement of all the protons and neutrons, and some arrangements are just more stable than others. Consider how C-14 decays: one of the neutrons turns into a proton. You can sort of imagine there is a neutron on the outside of the nucleus, and if it could get in and be surrounded by more particles, maybe it would be stable. But remember that free neutrons decay into protons? Well this guy on the outside is not quite free but he's not in a position to be stable. Something has to give to enable the overall state of the nucleus to become more stable. The overall arrangement becomes more stable once one of those unstable almost-free neutrons becomes a nice, stable proton, even though the proton is repelled by other protons in the nucleus. Better to be a repelled proton than an unstable neutron, basically. This is a simplification but it gives you the idea that you cannot think of each particle in isolation.(2 votes)

- what is a beta particle and what is its importance(2 votes)
- Before we knew much about fundamental particles we noticed a few types of radiation from decaying elements. These were named Alpha, Beta and Gamma. As we discovered more it was determined that Alpha particles were actually 2 protons and 2 neutrons, Beta particles were electrons and Gamma particles were high energy photons.(5 votes)

- It is said that the strong force comes into play when the nucleus if formed. But it did not exist before the closely packed nucleus was formed since it is a short range force. So from where does this strong force suddenly come? I mean what is its origin?(1 vote)
- The strong force is what holds protons and neutrons together but it is not directly responsible for holding the atomic nucleus together. The strong force is carried by particles called gluons that carry the strong charge between them but they can't exist as free particles over distances further than the size of a proton, way to short a distance to hold together an atomic nucleus. The strong charge exchange between the protons and neutrons is actually carried by virtual particles called pions that because they are virtual can only exist for a very short amount of time which limits the distance they can operate at.(6 votes)

- Do you have a video where you demonstrate the conversion of amu to MeVs? I'm having an issue in my homeschool physics course because I am supposed to solve, for example, E=mc^2 and write the answer in MeVs. I know that 1 amu = 931 MeV but when I tried to convert an answer from amu to MeV before, I did not get the right answer. I was wondering if you could give me an example, perhaps showing an equation and a step-by-step conversion from amu or joules to MeV.(1 vote)
- 1 eV = 1.6*10^-19 J.

Get your answer in Joules and then convert.

amu is a measure of mass, not energy.

Although it is common to see something like "1 amu = 931 MeV" what they really mean is "1 amu = 931 MeV/c^2" . eV/c^2 is a measure of mass.(6 votes)

- What is the strong force? Neutrons have no charge, how do they maintain protons together?(2 votes)
- The strong force is a different force from the electric force, so it is unrelated to charge. The strong force is much stronger than the electric force but it only has a tiny range, about equal to the diameter of a proton. Protons and neutrons both interact via the strong force, and that's how an atomic nucleus is held together despite the electric repulsion of the protons.(4 votes)

## Video transcript

- [Voiceover] In the last
video, we talked about the helium nucleus, which contains two protons and two neutrons. Protons and neutrons in the nucleus are called nucleons, and so I'll use that term a few times in this video. Here's a picture of the nucleus, with two protons and two neutrons, and we know it's stable, even though we know like charges repel. And so these two protons are repelling each other, and that's
the electrostatic force. So let me go ahead and write that here. The electrostatic force
says like charges repel. We know that this nucleus is stable, so there must be something else holding the nucleus together, which we call the strong force. So the nuclear strong force is stronger than the electrostatic force. The strong force acts only over short distances though, but it does act between all nucleons. For example, a proton-proton interaction is the same as a
proton-neutron interaction, which is the same as a
neutron-neutron interaction. You can get into much more detail about the strong force. That's not really the point of this video. The point is that this nucleus is stable. And let's think about why. We have equal numbers
of protons and neutrons, and so that's interesting. So let's think about the atomic number, which tells us the number of protons, which we represent by Z. And the number of neutrons
we could say is capital N. So if we're concerned with the ratio, the ratio of neutrons to protons, so the N to Z ratio. In this example, we have two
protons and two neutrons. So two neutrons over two
protons is equal to one. We have N to Z ratio of one. It turns out that nuclei
that have small numbers of protons, so if we're talking
about Z is less than 20, they have stable nuclei when the N to Z ratio is equal to one. So when N over Z is equal to one, you can say you have a stable nucleus, so equal numbers of protons and neutrons turns out to be stable. So for this example, the
helium-four nucleus is stable. Thinking about that, let's
look at carbon-14 next. We have carbon-14, so let's get a little space right down here. So carbon-14 atomic number of six. Therefore, carbon has six
protons in the nucleus. So there are six protons. Number of neutrons will be 14 minus six, so eight neutrons. So what's the neutron to proton ratio? So what's the N to Z ratio here? Well the N to Z ratio would be eight neutrons and six protons, and obviously that number
is greater than one, so we have an unstable nucleus. The carbon-14 nucleus is unstable, it's radioactive, it's going to undergo spontaneous decay. It's going to try to get a better neutron to proton ratio. So let's look at the nuclear equation which represents the
spontaneous decay of carbon-14. So here is our nuclear equation. And when you're writing nuclear equations, you're representing only the nuclei here, so for example, on the left side of my nuclear equation, I have carbon-14, we're talking about only the nucleus, so we're talking about six protons and eight neutrons in the nucleus. And so let's look and
see what happens here. So carbon-14, the nucleus,
the carbon-14 nucleus is actually going to give off an electron, and so that's pretty weird, and we'll talk about more
why in the next video. It's a conversion that's governed
by the weak nuclear force. But we know that an electron
has a negative one charge, and so that's what we're
talking about here. Here for carbon, we have six protons, let me go and write
that, six protons here. An electron has a negative one charge, let's write a negative one
charge here for the electron. The carbon-14 nucleus is turning into the nucleus for nitrogen here. Let's look at what we have. Our atomic number is seven, so we have seven protons, let's go ahead and write that here. Seven protons, and 14 minus
7 gives us seven neutrons. So we look at the mass number here, so 14 minus seven gives us seven neutrons. And so that ratio, the ratio of neutrons to protons is seven over seven, which is equal to one. That implies that we have
a stable nucleus here. That's the reason why carbon-14
undergoes radioactive decay. Let's look at more details
about a nuclear equation, because that's really what
I'm most concerned about here in this video. The number of nucleons is conserved. Let's use a different color here. We have 14 nucleons on the left. We have six protons and eight neutrons. And on the right, we
also have 14 nucleons, seven protons and seven neutrons, so obviously an electron is
not a proton or a neutron. Nucleons are conserved,
so we have 14 on the left, and we have zero plus 14 on the right. Also charge is conserved, and so that's what we see down here. We have six positive
charges on the left side. On the right side, we
have one negative charge and seven positive charges, so negative one and
seven give us plus six, so we have plus six. So nucleons are conserved and charge is conserved
in a nuclear equation. And notice what happened here. We changed the identity. We went from carbon to nitrogen, because we changed the number of protons. We went from six protons to seven protons, and so that's the idea of transmutations, of changing one element
into another element. For nuclei with small numbers of protons, the N to Z ratio, the
ideal one is one to one. For nuclei with more protons, it turns out the ratio
changes, so let's look at that. As you increase the number of protons, the ratio changes for a stable nucleus. The N to Z ratio turns out to be 1.5, so as you increase in Z, so as you go above Z is equal to 20. As you get more and more protons, you need more neutrons. You need more neutrons, and let's think about why. If I have a bigger nucleus here, so this is a very poor
representation of a nucleus. I think about two protons, let me use, I'll use magenta here. So I'll have two protons
really close to each other. We know that there is a weak
electrostatic repulsion here, and there's a strong nuclear force. There's a strong nuclear
force between those protons. The strong nuclear force wins, but this is only when you're
talking about short distances. Remember the strong force acts
only over short distances. So if you have protons that
are far away from each other, so these two protons here
are far away from each other, there's still a repulsive force. The electrostatic force is still present, so they're still repelling each other. But you don't have the
strong force any more. And because you don't have
the strong force any more, eventually as you keep
increasing the number of protons, you're increasing in
the electrostatic force, and you get to a point where you need more of the strong force, and so you need to add in more neutrons
to balance things out. So you need to add in more neutrons here, and that's the reason
for this increased ratio. You need more neutrons as you increase the number of protons here. When you get beyond approximately 83, so let me go ahead and
write this down here, so once you get an atomic number greater than 83, so bismuth, the repulsive force of the protons, this electrostatic repulsive
force that we talked about here is so great that pretty much all of the nuclei are unstable, and will undergo radioactive decay. We'll talk in the next video about the types of radioactive
decay that you might see.