What is Neutron | Discovery, Mass, Charge, Properties

Definition of Neutron

The neutron is the particle in the atomic nucleus with a mass = 1 and charge = 0. Neutrons are found together with protons in the atomic nucleus. The number of neutrons in an atom determines its isotope.

what is neutron

Although a neutron has a net neutral electrical charge, it does consist of charged components that cancel each other out with respect to the charge.

Other Facts About Neutron

  • Neutrons are relatively massive particles that are one of the primary constituents of the nucleus.
  • Neutrons are electrically neutral particles with a mass approximately equal to that of a hydrogen atom.
  • A neutron is a type of hadron. It consists of one up quark and two down quarks.
  • Although the mass of a proton and a neutron are comparable, especially compared with the much lighter electron, a neutron is slightly more massive than a proton. A neutron has a mass of 1.67492729 x 10-27 kg.
  • A neutron is considered a type of fermion because it has a spin = 1/2.
  • Although it’s possible to eject neutrons from the nucleus, the free particles don’t last long before reacting with other atoms. On average, a neutron survives on its own for about 15 minutes.

Discovery of Neutrons

discovery of neutron

Neutrons were first theorized by the New Zealand born British physicist Ernest Rutherford in the year 1920. The discovery of neutrons is credited to the British physicist James Chadwick in the year 1932. He was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for this discovery in the year 1935.

During the 1920s, the common assumption on the nature of atoms was that they consisted of protons and nuclear electrons.

However, this failed to comply with the Heisenberg uncertainty relation in quantum mechanics. In 1931, two German nuclear physicists observed that when the alpha particle radiation emitted by polonium is made incident on beryllium, lithium, or boron. It resulted in the production of an unusually penetrating form of radiation.

Later, it was proven by James Chadwick through a series of experiments that these particles that constituted the unusually penetrating radiation were neutrons.

Charge on Neutron

charge on neutron

The electric charge that is associated with a neutron is 0. Therefore, neutrons are neutrally charged subatomic particles. Since neutrons lack an electric charge, their mass cannot be directly determined via the analytical technique of mass spectrometry.

Mass of Neutron

mass of neutron

The mass of a neutron is roughly equal to 1.008 atomic mass units. When converted into kilograms, the mass of the neutron can be approximated to 1.674 X 10-27 kg.

The mass of the neutron can be calculated by subtracting the mass of a proton from the mass of a deuterium nucleus (deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen-containing one proton, one electron, and one neutron in its atomic structure. Since the electron’s mass is negligible compared to that of the proton and the neutron, the mass of the neutron can be calculated by subtracting the mass of the proton from the mass of the deuterium atom).

Properties of Neutrons

Despite the fact that the neutron is considered a neutral particle, the magnetic moment of neutrons is not equal to zero. Even though electric fields have no effects on neutrons, these subatomic particles are affected by the presence of magnetic fields.

The magnetic moment associated with the neutrons can be considered an indication of its quark substructure and the distribution of its internal charges.

Applications of Neutrons

These are some applications of neutrons

  1. In several nuclear reactions, the subatomic particle known as the neutrons plays a significant role. Neutron capture, for example, often results in the activation of neutrons which, in turn, induces radioactivity. Knowledge of neutrons and their activity has been especially important in the past for developing many nuclear reactors (and several nuclear weapons). Their neutrons absorption almost always causes the nuclear fissioning of such elements as uranium-235 and plutonium-239.
  2. Warm, cold, and hot neutrons radiation has a very important application in neutron scattering facilities where the radiation is also used in condensed matter research with the help of X-rays. When it comes to atomic comparisons, the neutrons complement the latter via different scattering cross-sections, their susceptibility to magnetism, their energy spectrum for inelastic neutrons spectroscopy, and finally, their deep penetration into matter.
  3. One of the most significant applications of neutrons is in the excitation of delayed and triggered gamma rays from material components. This forms the basis for the study of neutrons activation analysis, often abbreviated to NAA. It also forms the basis for the study of the prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (usually abbreviated to PGNAA). NAA is most widely used to analyze small samples of materials in a nuclear reactor. In contrast, PGNAA is most often used to examine subterranean rocks on conveyor belts around boreholes and industrial bulk materials.

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