Neutrons are the subatomic particles at the centre of atoms and are neither positively charged or negatively charged and the symbol of these particles are given by the symbol ‘n’ or
‘n0’, which is because net electric charge being 0 since they are not charged and contains mass which is somewhat higher than the mass of protons. These neutrons and protons together comprise the nuclei in the atoms. As the protons and the neutrons behave in similar ways inside the nucleus and each of whom having the mass of about one atomic mass unit, both of these are referred as being nucleons. The properties and the interactions among them are described through nuclear physics.
Nuclear and chemical properties of this nucleus formed by the neutrons and protons can be known by observing the count of protons known as the atomic number as well as the count of neutrons, also known as neutron number. To know the atomic mass number, one must figure out the total nucleons present. As an example, atomic number is 6 for carbon, and in the abundant isotope carbon-12, there are 6 neutrons, while in the rare isotope carbon-13 isotope there are 7 neutrons. Some of these elements can occur in nature having just a single stable isotope for example fluorine. However elements can also occur having several stable isotopes much like tin that can exist with stable isotopes that can amount to ten.
Inside the nucleus of an atom neutrons and protons remain tied together by means of nuclear force. Neutrons are essential in adding stability to the nuclei, the only exception here is a single proton atom of hydrogen. Neutrons can be produced through nuclear reactions like nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. These are primary contributors when it comes to nucleosynthesis noticeable among the chemical elements present in stars through nuclear processes like neutron capture, fission and fusion.
These neutrons are essential for producing nuclear power and a decade from the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932, neutrons kept being used for inducing several varying sorts of nuclear transmutations. Through the discovery of nuclear fission back in 1938, it would quickly be understood that, when one fission event led to production of neutrons, every newly created neutrons can generate further fission events in cascading process whish are otherwise called nuclear chain reactions. These are the findings and events which would eventually lead to the creation of the first ever self-sustaining reactor core along with Trinity in 1945, the first nuclear weapon.
Free neutrons, though do not directly ionize atoms, can indeed cause ionized radiation. This is what can make them hazardous for biological life forms, based on the amount of exposure these biological forms have as well as the strength of the radiation. Small amounts of background neutron flux consisting of free neutrons can naturally exist on Earth thanks to the cosmic ray showers which can arise from supernovas far out in space as also through the natural radioactive processes of spontaneous fission elements present in the crust of planet Earth. Dedicated sources of neutrons can be research reactors, neutron generators and spallation sources which are able to produce free neutrons that can be used in irradiation as also in experiments like neutron scattering.
Free neutrons are the ones which do not stay integrated in the nuclei and are subject to a specific type of radioactive decay that is called the beta decay. They break down into protons, electrons and antineutrinos which are nothing but antimatter counterparts of the neutrino or particles with zero charge and zero or negligible mass. The half-life for such decay processes is 614 seconds. Since they can readily disintegrate so easily, neutrons cannot exist naturally in their free state, the only exceptions to this are the cosmic rays along with other highly energetic particles. As these free neutrons are neutral when it comes to electrical charge, these are able to penetrate unchecked even through electrical fields in the atoms and therefore act as penetrating forms of radiation, which exclusively interact with matter based on the rare collisions that take place with the atomic nuclei.
The classification of protons and neutrons is called hadrons which are subatomic particles which get subjected to the strong force like electromagnetic force for binding electrons to atoms. Hadrons, are found to have internal structures based on quarks that are fractionally charged subatomic particles which are considered as being among those fundamental components of matter. Similar to the proton as well as baryon particles, these neutrons consist of three quarks. More like the neutrons possess magnetic dipole moments or they can behave like minute magnets in such ways which suggest that they are entities of shifting electrical charges.
Neutrons and protons can behave in near identical ways being subject to the influences from the nuclear force present in the nucleus. The isospin is the concept where protons and neutrons are viewed to be two quantum states of same particles, used for modelling interactions of nucleons through weak forces like nuclear force. Because of very high strengths of nuclear force in shorter distances, the binding energy between the nucleons is significantly greater than the electromagnetic energy to bind electrons to atoms. Thus, the nuclear reactions like nuclear fission can have energy densities that are over ten million times of what can be noticed among chemical reactions. Due to mass energy equivalence, the mass of the nuclei is reduced by these nuclear binding energies. Lastly, the ability of the nuclear forces in storing energy that generate from electromagnetic repulsions of the nuclear particles is what makes most of the energy generated in nuclear reactors and bombs to be as intense as they are. So nuclear fission involves the absorption of neutrons by heavier nuclides for example uranium-235 ends up causing the nuclide in becoming unstable thus breaking into lighter nuclides as also newer neutrons. Then, positively charged light nuclides starts to repel thereby releasing the electromagnetic potential energy.
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