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This tutorial on nuclear chemistry for non-scientists explores the basics of radioactive decay and nuclear fission. It contains four interactive simulations that depict fission of a U-235 atom, two types of radioactive chain reactions, and nuclear fusion.
Editor's Note: The VisionLearning tutorial features conversational language and is organized for novice learners. It is appropriate for K-8 teachers and high school physics students as well. Don't miss the "Questions and Quizzes" and links to additional resources on the topic.
See Related Materials for a comprehensive tutorial on nuclear reactions, appropriate for teachers seeking deeper content knowledge on the topic.
Metadata instance created
July 21, 2011
by Caroline Hall
July 22, 2011
by Caroline Hall
Last Update when Cataloged:
April 30, 2006
AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)
4. The Physical Setting
4D. The Structure of Matter
6-8: 4D/M1a. All matter is made up of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a microscope.
9-12: 4D/H1. Atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The nucleus is a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom but makes up almost all of its mass. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons which have roughly the same mass but differ in that protons are positively charged while neutrons have no electric charge.
9-12: 4D/H3. Although neutrons have little effect on how an atom interacts with other atoms, the number of neutrons does affect the mass and stability of the nucleus. Isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons (and therefore of electrons) but differ in the number of neutrons.
9-12: 4D/H4. The nucleus of radioactive isotopes is unstable and spontaneously decays, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. It cannot be predicted exactly when, if ever, an unstable nucleus will decay, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability of decay rate allows radioactivity to be used for estimating the age of materials that contain radioactive substances.
4E. Energy Transformations
9-12: 4E/H6. Energy is released whenever the nuclei of very heavy atoms, such as uranium or plutonium, split into middleweight ones, or when very light nuclei, such as those of hydrogen and helium, combine into heavier ones. For a given quantity of a substance, the energy released in a nuclear reaction is very much greater than the energy given off in a chemical reaction.
11. Common Themes
6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.
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