Nuclear science is the study and understanding of the atomic world – the individual atom and its constituent parts. In everyday English the words nuclear and atomic are used interchangeably, though, in physics, there is a distinction.
- Nuclear physics which is concerned with the study of atomic nuclei and their constituent parts.
- Atomic physics is concerned with the whole atom and its behaviour.
Aspects of nuclear science
- Nuclear power stations – Harnessing energy from nuclear chain reactions
- Nuclear medicine and radiology. This is medical science that makes use of radiation and radioactivity.
- Irradiation services. Using gamma rays to destroy bacteria and helps to clean infection. Alternatives to pesticides. For example, fruit flies can be rendered sterile by irradiation. Then released into the wild, they can reduce populations of fruit flies without pesticides.
- Carbon dating. Measuring radiation from objects can give an estimate of historical age.
- Use of X-rays for medical science and industry
- Radioisotope in medicine – used to sterilise equipment or in the treatment of cancer.
John Dalton (1766 – 1844) English chemist and physicist. Dalton is a forerunner to nuclear science because he is credited with introducing atomic theory into chemistry. Dalton published a forerunner to the modern Periodic table of elements. He listed elements with their atomic weight and his understanding of how substances combined led him to the theory of the law of multiple proportions.
Henri Becquerel (1852 – 1908) French engineer and physicist. He was the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity when he measured phosphorescent uranium and discovered an X-ray like radiation.
J. J. Thompson (1856 – 1940) English physicist and Nobel Laureate. He is credited with the discovery and identification of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered. Thompson discovered the electron by investigating the properties of cathode rays Thompson was a gifted teacher whose pupils included Ernest Rutherford and research assistants, such as Niels Bohr, Max Born, and William Henry Bragg.
Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) Polish physicist and chemist. Discovered radiation and helped to apply it in the field of X-ray. She won Nobel Prize in both Chemistry and Physics.
Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968) Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. In 1939, Meitner and Otto Hahn successfully showed the nuclear fission of uranium and correctly predicted this would create an enormous release of energy. This process is the basis of both nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons. Due to her Jewish identity, she fled Nazi-occupied Austria for Sweden where she stayed for the remainder of her life.
Otto Hahn (1879 – 1968) German chemist who discovered nuclear fission (1939). Pioneering scientist in the field of radiochemistry. Discovered radio-active elements and nuclear isomerism (1921). Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1944)
Hans Geiger (1882 – 1945) Geiger was a German physicist who led the Geiger–Marsden experiment which discovered the atomic nucleus. He also co-developed the Geiger counter.
Niels Bohr (1885 – 1962) Danish physicist. Bohr developed a structure of the atom, recognising electrons revolving around a stable nucleus. His work was important for atomic structure and quantum physics. Awarded Nobel Prize for Physics 1922.
Sir James Chadwick (1891 – 1974) A British physicist who first discovered the neutron in 1932. He was part of the British top-secret Tube Alloys project before it was merged with the US project. He was the lead British scientist who worked on the American Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb.
Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976) German theoretical physicist – one of the pioneers of Quantum mechanics. Heisenberg investigated the physics of sub-atomic level. He introduced the uncertainty principle – marking a decisive break with Newtonian physics.
Enrico Fermi (1901 -1954) Fermi was an Italian/American physicist who made important contributions to theoretical and experimental physics. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1938 for induced radioactivity. He went on to become the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor which is used in nuclear power plants. He also made contributions in the field of statistical mechanics, quantum theory, and particle physics.
Paul Dirac (1902-1984) English physicist – One of the early exponents of quantum physics and quantum electrodynamics. Dirac developed theories of the electron and the special theory of relativity.
Eugene Wigner (1902-1995) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, engineer and mathematician. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 “for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) American theoretical physicist who became the head of the Los Almos laboratory and the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, he used his position to campaign for the control of nuclear power and spoke against McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s.
Hans Bethe (1906- 2005) German-American nuclear physicist who made important contributions to astrophysics, quantum electrodynamics and solid-state physics. He played an important role in the theoretical aspect of the Manhattan Project and worked on the implosion method. He also worked on the Hydrogen bomb but made a public statement against nuclear testing and the arms race. He was awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Hideki Yukawa (1907-1981) Japanese theoretical physicist. In 1935 he published his theory of mesons, which explained the interaction between protons and neutrons, and was a major influence on research into elementary particles. Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics 1949.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was a Chinese-American experimental physicist. She worked on the Manhattan Projects and was involved in splitting uranium through gaseous diffusion. She made significant contributions in the field of nuclear physics and was awarded the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978.
Richard Phillips Feynman (1918 – 1988) Feynman was an American physicist who made contributions to the field of path integral formulation of quantum mechanics and the theory of quantum electrodynamics. Feynman was also a pioneer in quantum computing and the concept of nanotechnology. Feynman was also active in popularising physics to a mass audience.
Short History of Nuclear Folly, A : Mad Scientists, Dithering Nazis, Lost Nukes, and Catastrophic Cover-Ups
Famous physicists – A list of the greatest physicists throughout history – including Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Stephen Hawking.
Inventions that changed the world – Famous inventions that made a great difference to the progress of the world, including aluminum, the telephone and the printing press.
Female Scientists – A list of female scientists who have made important contributions to the field of science. Including Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, Barbara McClintock and Dorothy Hodgkin.