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SCRIT UPSC NOTE

 Atomic Nucleus

Atomic Nucleus

  • The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom.

  • It was discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. 

  • An atom is composed of a positively charged nucleus, with a cloud of negatively charged electrons surrounding it, bound together by electrostatic force. 

  • Almost all of the mass of an atom is located in the nucleus, with a very small contribution from the electron cloud. 

  • Protons and neutrons are bound together to form a nucleus by the nuclear force.

  • The diameter of the nucleus is in the range of 1.70 fm (                    )   for hydrogen (the diameter of a single proton) to about 11.7 fm for uranium.

  • The branch of physics concerned with the study and understanding of the atomic nucleus, including its composition and the forces that bind it together, is called nuclear physics.

SCRIT

SCRIT

  • Researchers in the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science, in Japan – demonstrated a setup that can use electron scattering to ‘see’ inside unstable nuclei, including those that don’t occur naturally.

  • Using an apparatus to hold the nuclei of caesium-137 atoms as well as make sure electrons could interact with them, using a system called SCRIT. 

  • First, the researchers accelerated electrons in a particle accelerator to energise them, and then smashed them into a block of uranium carbide.

  • This produced a stream of caesium-137 ions (atoms stripped of electrons). 

  • This isotope of caesium has a half-life of around 30 years.

  • The ions were then transported to the SCRIT system, which is short for ‘Self-Confining Radioactive-isotope Ion Target’.

  • This method enables to trap the target ions in three dimensions along the electron beam using the electric attractive force between the ions and the … electrons.

  • This resulting in overlap between the target ions and the electron beam.

  • This ‘overlap’ meant that the electrons had a good chance of colliding with the ions.

  • SCRIT allowed the researchers to achieve this with as few as 108 caesium-137 ions.  Without SCRIT, they would have required a trillion-times more.

  • The next step was to study the electron-ion interaction.

  • When an electron is scattered by an atom’s nucleus, it behaves like a wave during the interaction. 

  • Once scattered off, the electron-waves interfere with each other. 

  • The physicists used a device called a magnetic spectrometer to record the resulting interference pattern. 

  • Information about a nucleus can be more readily obtained from the electrons’ interference patterns. 

What the researchers found out?

  • Based on the magnetic spectrometer’s readings, the physicists found that the internal structure of a caesium-137 nucleus is consistent with that put together from older studies and theoretical calculations.

  • The physicists have demonstrated a femtoscope.

  • Just as a light microscope can probe things that are around a micrometre in size, a femtoscope is a machine that can probe the femtometer scale (1 / 100000 0000000000) of atomic nuclei.

  • With the femtoscope, the hope is that a unifying theory of nuclear structure will be found somewhere in the gaps between expected and unexpected shapes.

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