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Alpha particle
Alpha Decay.svg
Composition2 protons, 2 neutrons
StatisticsBosonic
Symbolα, α2+, He2+
Mass6.644657230(82)×10−27 kg[1]

4.001506179127(63) u

3.727379378(23) GeV/c2
Electric charge+2 e
Spin0[2]

Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+
or 4
2
He2+
indicating a helium ion with a +2 charge (missing its two electrons). If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle becomes a normal (electrically neutral) helium atom 4
2
He
.

Alpha particles, like helium nuclei, have a net spin of zero. Due to the mechanism of their production in standard alpha radioactive decay, alpha particles generally have a kinetic energy of about 5 MeV, and a velocity in the vicinity of 4% the speed of light. (See discussion below for the limits of these figures in alpha decay.) They are a highly ionizing form of particle radiation, and (when resulting from radioactive alpha decay) usually have low penetration depth (stopped by a few centimeters of air, or by the skin).

However, so-called long

4.001506179127(63) u

3.727379378(23) GeV/c2Electric charge+2 eSpin0[2]

Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as Heprotons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+
or 4
2
He2+
indicating a helium ion with a +2 charge (missing its two electrons). If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle becomes a normal (electrically neutral) helium atom 4
2
He
.

Alpha particles, like helium nuclei, have a net spin of zero. Due to the mechanism of their production in standard alpha radioactive decay, alpha particles generally have a kinetic energy of about 5 MeV, and a velocity in the vicinity of 4% the speed of light. (See discussion below for the limits of these figures in alpha decay.) They are a highly ionizing form of part

Alpha particles, like helium nuclei, have a net spin of zero. Due to the mechanism of their production in standard alpha radioactive decay, alpha particles generally have a kinetic energy of about 5 MeV, and a velocity in the vicinity of 4% the speed of light. (See discussion below for the limits of these figures in alpha decay.) They are a highly ionizing form of particle radiation, and (when resulting from radioactive alpha decay) usually have low penetration depth (stopped by a few centimeters of air, or by the skin).

However, so-called long range alpha particles from ternary fission are three times as energetic, and penetrate three times as far. The helium nuclei that form 10–12% of cosmic rays are also usually of much higher energy than those produced by nuclear decay processes, and are thus capable of being highly penetrating and able to traverse the human body and also many meters of dense solid shielding, depending on their energy. To a lesser extent, this is also true of very high-energy helium nuclei produced by particle accelerators.


Some science authors use doubly ionized helium nuclei (He2+
) and alpha particles as interchangeable terms. The nomenclature is not well defined, and thus not all high-velocity helium nuclei are considered by all authors to be alpha particles. As with beta and gamma particles/rays, the name used for the particle carries some mild connotations about its production process and energy, but these are not rigorously applied.[3] Thus, alpha particles may be loosely used as a term when referring to stellar helium nuclei reactions (for example the alpha processes), and even when they occur as components of cosmic rays. A higher energy version of alphas than produced in alpha decay is a common product of an uncommon nuclear fission result called ternary fission. However, helium nuclei produced by particle accelerators (cyclotrons, synchrotrons, and the like) are less likely to be referred to as "alpha particles".

Sources of alpha particles

Alpha decay

A physicist observes alpha particles from the decay of a polonium source in a cloud chamber
Alpha radiation detected in an isopropanol cloud chamber (after injection of an artificial source radon-220).

The best-known source of alpha particles is alpha decay of heavier (> 106 u atomic weight) atoms. When an atom emits an alpha particle in alpha decay, the atom's mass number decreases by four due to the loss of the four nucleons in the alpha particle. The atomic number of the atom goes down by exact

The best-known source of alpha particles is alpha decay of heavier (> 106 u atomic weight) atoms. When an atom emits an alpha particle in alpha decay, the atom's mass number decreases by four due to the loss of the four nucleons in the alpha particle. The atomic number of the atom goes down by exactly two, as a result of the loss of two protons – the atom becomes a new element. Examples of this sort of nuclear transmutation are when uranium becomes thorium, or radium becomes radon gas, due to alpha decay.

Alpha particles are commonly emitted by all of the larger radioactive nuclei such as uranium, thorium, actinium, and radium, as well as the transuranic elements. Unlike other types of decay, alpha decay as a process must have a minimum-size atomic nucleus that can support it. The smallest nuclei that have to date been found to be capable of alpha emission are beryllium-8 and the lightest nuclides of tellurium (element 52), with mass numbers between 104 and 109. The process of alpha decay sometimes leaves the nucleus in an excited state, wherein the emission of a gamma ray then removes the excess energy.

Mechanism of production in alpha decay

In contrast to beta decay, the fundamental interactions responsible for alpha decay are a balance between the electromagnetic force and nuclear force. Alpha decay results from the Coulomb repulsion[2] between the alpha particle and the rest of the nucleus, which both have a positive electric charge, but which is kept in check by the nuclear force. In classical physics, alpha particles do not have enough energy to escape the potential well from the strong force inside the nucleus (this well involves escaping the strong force to go up one side of the well, which is followed by the electromagnetic force causing a repulsive push-off down the other side

Alpha particles are commonly emitted by all of the larger radioactive nuclei such as uranium, thorium, actinium, and radium, as well as the transuranic elements. Unlike other types of decay, alpha decay as a process must have a minimum-size atomic nucleus that can support it. The smallest nuclei that have to date been found to be capable of alpha emission are beryllium-8 and the lightest nuclides of tellurium (element 52), with mass numbers between 104 and 109. The process of alpha decay sometimes leaves the nucleus in an excited state, wherein the emission of a gamma ray then removes the excess energy.

In contrast to beta decay, the fundamental interactions responsible for alpha decay are a balance between the electromagnetic force and nuclear force. Alpha decay results from the Coulomb repulsion[2] between the alpha particle and the rest of the nucleus, which both have a positive electric charge, but which is kept in check by the nuclear force. In classical physics, alpha particles do not have enough energy to escape the potential well from the strong force inside the nucleus (this well involves escaping the strong force to go up one side of the well, which is followed by the electromagnetic force causing a repulsive push-off down the other side).

However, the quantum tunnelling effect allows alphas to escape even though they do not have enough energy to overcome the nuclear force. This is allowed by the wave nature of matter, which allows the alpha particle to spend some of its time in a region

However, the quantum tunnelling effect allows alphas to escape even though they do not have enough energy to overcome the nuclear force. This is allowed by the wave nature of matter, which allows the alpha particle to spend some of its time in a region so far from the nucleus that the potential from the repulsive electromagnetic force has fully compensated for the attraction of the nuclear force. From this point, alpha particles can escape, and in quantum mechanics, after a certain time, they do so.

Especially energetic alpha particles deriving from a nuclear process are produced in the relatively rare (one in a few hundred) nuclear fission process of ternary fission. In this process, three charged particles are produced from the event instead of the normal two, with the smallest of the charged particles most probably (90% probability) being an alpha particle. Such alpha particles are termed "long range alphas" since at their typical energy of 16 MeV, they are at far higher energy than is ever produced by alpha decay. Ternary fission happens in both neutron-induced fission (the nuclear reaction that happens in a nuclear reactor), and also when fissionable and fissile actinides nuclides (i.e., heavy atoms capable of fission) undergo spontaneous fission as a form of radioactive decay. In both induced and spontaneous fission, the higher energies available in heavy nuclei result in long range alphas of higher energy than those from alpha decay.

Accelerators

Energe

Energetic helium nuclei may be produced by cyclotrons, synchrotrons, and other particle accelerators, but they are not normally referred to as "alpha particles."[clarification needed]

Solar core reactions

In addition, extremely h

In addition, extremely high energy helium nuclei sometimes referred to as alpha particles make up about 10 to 12% of cosmic rays. The mechanisms of cosmic ray production continue to be debated.

Energy and absorption

In 2011, members of the international STAR collaboration using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory detected the antimatter partner of the helium nucleus, also known as the anti-alpha.[14] The experiment used gold ions movi

This was the first discovered nuclear reaction.

To the adjacent pictures: According to the energy-loss curve by Bragg, it is recognizable that the alpha pa

To the adjacent pictures: According to the energy-loss curve by Bragg, it is recognizable that the alpha particle indeed loses more energy on the end of the trace.[13]

In 2011, members of the international STAR collaboration using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory detected the antimatter partner of the helium nucleus, also known as the anti-alpha.[14] The experiment used gold ions moving at nearly the speed of light and colliding head on to produce the antiparticle.[15]

Applications

dynamic random access memory (DRAM) "soft errors" were linked to alpha particles in 1978 in Intel's DRAM chips. The discovery led to strict control of radioactive elements in the packaging of semiconductor materials, and the problem is largely considered to be solved.[16]

See also

References

  1. ^ "CODATA Value: Alpha particle mass". NIST. Retrieved 15 September 2011.