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Ch.11 Nuclear ChemistryWorksheetSee all chapters
All Chapters
Ch.1 Matter and Measurements
Ch.2 Atoms and the Periodic Table
Ch.3 Ionic Compounds
Ch.4 Molecular Compounds
Ch.5 Classification & Balancing of Chemical Reactions
Ch.6 Chemical Reactions & Quantities
Ch.7 Energy, Rate and Equilibrium
Ch.8 Gases, Liquids and Solids
Ch.9 Solutions
Ch.10 Acids and Bases
Ch.11 Nuclear Chemistry
BONUS: Lab Techniques and Procedures
BONUS: Mathematical Operations and Functions
Types of Radiation
Alpha Decay
Beta Decay
Gamma Emission
Electron Capture
Positron Emission
Radioactive Half-Life
Measuring Radioactivity

Radioactive reactions deal with the chemical instability of the nucleus in an atom. Heavy (large atomic mass) elements undergo radioactive reactions in order to increase the stability of their nuclei. 

Types of Radioactive Decay

Concept #1: Understanding Nuclear Reactions.


Hey guys! In this new video, we’re going to take a look at nuclear reactions. We’re going to say here that nuclear reactions deal with chemical processes that take place in unstable nuclei atoms. Remember your basic picture of the atom. We have spinning around the nucleus are electrons. Within our nucleus, we have our protons and our neutrons. Our protons are positively charged. Our neutrons are neutral.
Nuclear reactions deal with us somehow affecting the number of protons within our given atom. We’re going to say this normally happens with very large bulky radioactive types of elements. We're going to say here unlike normal chemical reactions where the identities of the elements stay the same, we're going to say nuclear reactions often result in elements changing into completely different elements. We're all used to stoichiometry and balanced chemical equations.
For example, we're used to seeing we have H2 gas here plus N2 gas here combine to give us NH3 gas over here. Balancing it here, we’d put a 2 here and a 3 here. But for a nuclear reaction, we’re actually affecting the number of protons within our element. Remember, your protons or your atomic number represents the identity of that element. Every element has its own unique atomic number that no other element has. But in nuclear reactions, we’re actually messing around with the number of protons which results in us creating completely new and different elements. You could start out with calcium 20 and somehow go through some process in which calcium 20, calcium 40 I mean, becomes Argon. That's the whole basis of nuclear reactions. We go from one element to a completely new element by affecting the number of protons. Affecting the number of protons has a direct impact on the identity of the element. 

In a typical stoichiometric reaction we begin with elements as reactants and end with the same elements in different forms as products.

In a nuclear reaction the number of protons in an element are affected and so the identity of the element changes.

The three most common types of radioactive reactions are alpha decay or capture, beta decay or capture and gamma emission.

Concept #2: Types of Nuclear Reactions.


We’re going to say here when it comes to nuclear reactions, we could think the British physicist Ernest Rutherford who really did a lot of experience with nuclear reactions. His contribution to nuclear chemistry was so great that they actually named element 104 after him. Element 104 is called Rutherfordium. It's kind of umbrage to all the work that he’s done in terms of this field.
Rutherford basically broke down nuclear reactions into three major types of categories. We have our alpha decay, instead of alpha decay you may hear alpha emission. We also have beta decay, which you may also hear as beta emission. Then finally, we have gamma emission. You tend to just hear it as gamma emission. You really don’t hear the term gamma decay.
What does the word decay or emit mean? That means that the radioactive particle will be a product. Remember, if you hear the word decay or emission, that means that the radioactive particle involved in all of these reactions will be a product. The opposite of decay or emitting would be the word capture. Capture would be the complete opposite. Capture would mean that the radioactive particle involved in each of these types of nuclear reactions would be a reactant.
In alpha decay, we emit an alpha particle. In beta decay, we emit a beta particle. In gamma emission, we emit a gamma particle. These particles are what cause our elements to go from one type to another type. What you have to remember is when they say decay or emission, they're saying that this alpha particle, beta particle, or gamma particle will be a product. But if you hear the term capture or even absorption, then that means that the alpha particle, the beta particle, and the gamma particle will be reactants. This has a profound difference on what exactly your products will be because you'll be emitting or decaying these particles along with a whole new element with it.
The farther into this chapter we go, we’ll learn that beyond these three, we also have positron emissions as well as electron capture. Those will come after we learned these first three major types. Just remember, in a regular chemical reaction, we start out with let’s say carbon, we end with carbon. But in the nuclear reaction, we’re emitting or capturing radioactive particles. As a result, that's going to change the identity of my element. You can start out with calcium and end up with something completely different like Argon. 

In a radioactive decay or emission reaction the radioactive particle is ejected from the nucleus and forms a product.  

In a radioactive capture or absorption reaction the radioactive particle is taken into the element and so is seen as a reactant.