Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We now know how atoms, the building blocks of the whole universe and everything therein, animate-inanimate, form matter in an extraordinary way. As we have examined, these extremely minute particles have a perfect organisation within themselves. Yet, the miraculous aspect of the atom does not end there; the atom also houses tremendous energy.

This power hidden in the atom is so great that its discovery has enabled man to build huge canals uniting oceans, dig through mountains, produce artificial climates and accomplish many similar useful projects. However, while the power hidden in the atom serves humanity on one hand, it poses an extremely great danger for humanity on the other hand. So much so that by the misuse of this power, tens of thousands of people lost their lives in a very short time- a few seconds - at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. In recent years, an accident that took place in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Russia caused the death or injury of a great number of people.

Before giving detailed information on the disasters the power of the atom caused in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl, let us take a short look at the nature of this power in the atom and how it is released.

In the chapter titled "The Formation Adventure of the Atom", we had said the force keeping the protons and neutrons together in the atomic nucleus is "the strong nuclear force". The enormous power of nuclear energy is revealed by the liberation of a tiny part of this force in the nucleus. The magnitude of this energy varies depending on the type of the element, because the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of each element is different. As the nucleus grows, the number of neutrons and protons and the magnitude of the force bonding them to each other increase. It is extremely difficult to release this force that is responsible for keeping protons and neutrons together in a large nucleus. As the particles grow more distant from each other, they, just like a taut bow, try to come together with greater force.

Before going into the details of this force, let us think it over. How can such an enormous force fit in such a small place? This is such a force that it has been discovered after years of research conducted by thousands of people. When it is not interfered with, it does not do any harm to anyone, yet, with the intervention of man, it may at any time become a force killing millions.

Two technical processes called "fission" and "fusion" release this extraordinary force in the nucleus of the atom, which may endanger the lives of millions of people. Although these reactions at first seem to take place in the nucleus of the atom, they actually involve all the components of the atom. The reaction known as fission is a nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus splits into fragments, and the reaction called fusion is the bringing together of two nuclei by a great force. In either reaction, a tremendous amount of energy is released.

Fission is a reaction in which the atomic nucleus splits into fragments. As shown in the picture, the uranium 235 atom made to collide with a neutron is split to form the atoms of krypton 92 and barium 142. As a result of this collision, gamma rays are also released in the form of energy.


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