Producing and Balancing Nuclear Equations for Radioactive Decay

Producing and Balancing Nuclear Equations for Radioactive Decay

  • Radioactive decay happens when an unstable nucleus of an atom decomposes and emits radiation, leading to the formation of a new nucleus.

  • An equation for radioactive decay is like any other balanced chemical equation, where the total atomic number and the total mass number are equal on both sides of the equation.

  • The atomic number (Z) refers to the number of protons in a nucleus, while the mass number (A) is the total of the protons and neutrons.

  • To balance a nuclear equation, firstly identify the initial atom or the parent atom. It is usually provided with both its atomic and mass numbers.

  • Next, identify the radiation emitted during decay. Alpha (α) decay includes the emission of a helium-4 nucleus with atomic number 2 and mass number 4. Beta (β-) decay denotes the emission of an electron with atomic number -1 and mass number 0 (this represents a neutron converting into a proton). Gamma (γ) decay emits gamma rays and has no effect on mass or atomic number.

  • Once the radiation is identified, write the equation starting with the parent atom followed by an arrow and then the decay product plus the emitted radiation.

  • For example, during α decay of Uranium-238, the equation would be: 238/92 U → 234/90 Th + 4/2 α.

  • For β- decay of Carbon-14, the equation would be: 14/6 C → 14/7 N + 0/-1 β.

  • After writing the equation, ensure it’s balanced, i.e., the sum of atomic numbers on one side must equal the sum on the other, and the same applies to the mass numbers.

  • Remember, in nuclear decay, the order is essential. The parent nucleus always starts on the left; the daughter nucleus and the radiation are on the right.

  • Keep in mind that nuclear reactions can involve multiple stages and different types of decay. Make sure to balance each step individually to get the total picture.

  • Further, practicing several equations will improve understanding and comfort with this topic.

This revision content should give a brief introduction and guide on producing and balancing nuclear equations for radioactive decay. It is wise to make sure you have practised plenty of examples to feel confident in balancing nuclear equations, as real test questions often incorporate these principles in a variety of ways.