Physics Refresher

Introduction: Basic Physics of Atoms and Nuclei

The following ten sections present information about the physics underlying the nature and behaviour of atoms and nuclei.

The whole is intended to be a basic preparatory course for those wishing to take modules in the NTEC nuclear engineering programme.

The different sections are essentially self-contained but later sections assume knowledge of terms definitions and concepts given in earlier ones.

1. Preamble

This section presents:

  • different units used in general and in atomic & nuclear physics
  • a brief resume of the basic definition of terms describing the structure of matter pertaining to atoms and nuclei

2. Atomic Structure of Matter

This section presents:

  • a basic description of the atomic structure of matter
  • definitions of terms used in the literature

3. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

This section presents:

  • The essential results of Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics that are particularly relevant to the physics of atoms and nuclei.

Both are vast subjects and results will be presented without proofs.

4. Bohr Model of the Atom

This section describes:

  • the structure and behaviour of the simplest type of atom consisting of a nucleus orbited by a single electron only

It addresses the basic question: How do electrons remain in stable orbits around the atomic nucleus?

5. Multi-electron Atoms

This section describes:

  • the atomic structure and general properties of elements that form the Periodic Table of Elements

6. Emission/Absorption of EM Radiation

This section describes:

  • ways atoms respond to being excited and how they then undergo de-excitation

They link directly to how we detect radiation, modify and analyse materials using radiation and how radiation interacts with matter.

7. Basic Nuclear Concepts

This section presents:

  • a basic description of atomic nuclei
  • the stored energy contained within atomic nuclei
  • the occurrence and stability of atomic nuclei

8. Radioactive Decay

This section describes:

  • radioactivity
  • how unstable nuclei can decay
  • the laws governing radioactive decay

9. Sources of Radioactivity

This section describes:

  • various sources of radioactive nuclei, both naturally occurring and those produced artificially (man-made) in, for example, reactors or accelerators.

10. Fission Power

This section describes:

  • the basic principles underlying the development of the fission power reactor
  • some examples of commercial reactors in use today and
  • issues about the possible future of nuclear fission power