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Author Topic: What is the difference betweent the LHC and splitting the atom?  (Read 4136 times)

Devin Purvis

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Devin Purvis  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Dear nudists researchers,

My name is Devin Purvis from Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada. First let me say I love the show. There's nothing I enjoy better than stripping down and cranking up some spin-free science based news.

My question is: What's the difference between splitting an atom ie. an atomic bomb, and smashing an atom ie. The Large Hadron Collider?

Keep up the great work.

Sincerely,

DCP.    

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 05/08/2010 13:30:02 by _system »


 

Offline graham.d

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Hi Devin. "Splitting" or "smashing" the atom is a crude description of breaking the nucleus of an atom into some component parts. In the case of the A-bomb this may be done to atoms of Uranium 235 which is not very stable anyway. It decays by emitting neutrons which, in turn, can cause another U235 nucleus to decay. There are other unstable nuclei produced...

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nucene/u235chn.html

and a lot of energy. To trigger this you just need a certain amount (a critical mass) of material in a confined space. This results in a chain reaction and a very large explosion.

Atomic nuclei can also be split apart to produce other elements by firing into them very energetic charged particles such as protons moving very quickly. The charge allows them to be accelerated and focussed. However, what is more interesting is to investigate the more fundamental particles that make up protons and neutrons of a nucleus. The experiment may be to just have protons colliding (for example) but at very, very high energies. Rather than just splitting an atom the work of the LHC is to generate protons moving very fast indeed but to keep the experiment controlled. There is a whole zoo of particles that are known about today and a number of theories about how they fit together to make the world we live in and the forces we observe. The LHC is designed to have enough energy to produce some particles that are predicted by some theories but yet to be observed. This will allow some theories to be discarded and give greater insight. A key one to be looked for is the Higgs boson which is thought to be a "carrier" for the force of gravity.
 

Offline shadowdrummer46

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A shorter explanation :
Atomic bombs smash atoms into eachother creating a chain reaction which converts a small amount of each atom's mass into energy.
The LHC smashes subatomic particles at extreme speeds to create to create a brief picture of whats inside those subatomic particles.

Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken
« Last Edit: 06/08/2010 14:35:19 by shadowdrummer46 »
 

Offline graham.d

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Hmm much shorter, however atomic bombs do not smash atoms into each other except (in a technical sense) to confine a critical mass of the fissile material in a small volume. In the case of Uranium 235 it is the rapid build up of the neutron flux that causes the chain reaction and fission to occur.
 

Offline shadowdrummer46

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At least I was partly right.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the uranium bomb uses a gun-like mechanism to fire one piece of uranium into another to create a critical mass thus starting/sustaining the chain reaction.

Also, just checking my basic knowledge, fission is the splitting of an atom which releases sub-atomicparticles and converts a tiny amount of mass into energy during the process correct? (Sorry not trying to highjack OP)
 

Offline graham.d

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Quite right. A key factor to getting a high yield bomb is to get the mass of uranium together in a compact volume quickly so that it dose not blow apart without making use of all the uranium mass that is there. Shaped charges are used to contain the mass long enough in a compact form.

It is probably more correct to say fission is splitting the nucleus of an atom, but I'm being pedantic.
 

Offline shadowdrummer46

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Again basic question: If you are splitting only the nucleus what happens to the electrons in orbit around the atomic nuclei?
 

Offline syhprum

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A minor technical point, the 'little boy' gun mechanism nuclear bomb fired the slug of uranium 235 with the cylindrical hole in it onto the projecting spike of the other piece to form the critical mass this was probably done to give greater time for the reaction to build up.
 

Offline shadowdrummer46

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Could it be the smaller area of the spike would make critical mass easier to attain?
 

Offline graham.d

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"Again basic question: If you are splitting only the nucleus what happens to the electrons in orbit around the atomic nuclei?"

I think they are regarded as fairly irrelevent. They play no significant part in the reaction. I suppose they may contribute to the Electromagnetic Pulse that occurs.

 

Offline shadowdrummer46

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What is the difference betweent the LHC and splitting the atom?
« Reply #10 on: 06/08/2010 17:33:43 »
ahh ok thanks
 

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What is the difference betweent the LHC and splitting the atom?
« Reply #10 on: 06/08/2010 17:33:43 »

 

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