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How to split an atom


Concept Illustration

Add this to the pile of mind-bending atom qualities: an atomic nucleus has less mass as a whole than its protons and neutrons would have separately. How is this possible? Well, when the nucleus is formed, some of the mass of its constituent parts changes into energy that binds the protons and neutrons together. In other words, there’s high potential energy locked up in the nucleus.

It’s possible to release this energy, and actually harness it, by splitting specific types of atoms apart into multiple fragments – a process known as nuclear fission. All you need to break apart a uranium-235 atom is a slow-moving free neutron. The uranium atom will absorb the free neutron, the extra energy makes the uranium nucleus highly unstable, and the atom splits into two smaller atoms and two or three free neutrons. The potential energy in the nucleus is released as kinetic energy, in the form of these particles moving at great speed. The resulting free neutrons, in turn, can break apart other uranium-235 atoms, leading to a chain reaction.

“All you need to break apart a uranium-235 atom is a slow-moving free neutron”

A power-plant controls the reaction and harnesses the heat of this kinetic energy in order to generate steam that turns turbines. In contrast, in an atomic bomb the reaction is allowed to go unchecked, in order to generate a massive explosion.

You can also tap into this energy through nuclear fusion – the combining of two nuclei into a new nucleus. Nuclear fusion generates the energy of stars and hydrogen bombs. However, nobody has been able to harness it effectively as a power source yet.

Source: How It Works

Interesting Read: Check it here

Read About Fusion: The Tokamak

2 comments on “How to split an atom

  1. seepurple
    February 14, 2015

    It states the atom slits into smaller atoms… Do atoms grow? Will the atoms that were slit eventually grow in the larger atom it use to be? If, per chance, the atoms stay the same size and we continue to split atoms how would these smaller atoms affect the other atoms around it?

    Sorry, just curious. (love Science, just don’t know enough to make me happy *LOL*)


  2. mktlibrary
    February 14, 2015

    Hi Seepurple..

    Very interesting set of questions..
    An atom that has been split does not (spontaneously) grow and the reason is.. by splitting an atom, you are effectively splitting its nucleus and changing the atomic number of the atom. This will change it to another element (the decay depends of a much more complex process).

    Now, you cannot get a larger atom (not in the lab) unless you fuse two atoms (fusing 2 hydrogen atoms produces helium). that process consumes so much energy humans cannot tap into it yet. However, the perfect reactor for this kinda thing is the Sun..

    The action of splitting an atom does effect other atoms of the same element (in the same material used and does not effect separated atoms of the same material in a different place, of course) and the decay occurs depending on something called, half life..

    Please be reminded.. this is a layman explanation. I am not a scientist and I could be wrong. My explanation is based on my understanding of the subject.

    If you are interested in finding out the answers in details, I would be more than glad to help.

    Cheers buddy..


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This entry was posted on February 13, 2015 by in Physics, Sci-Media and tagged , , , , , .

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