Nuclear Chemistry

7 July 2016

In today’s society, nuclear chemistry is becoming more and more common and is being used in a variety of ways including for weapons and the medical field but the significance of this type of chemistry is its impact and what it has contributed to the world. Nuclear chemistry is the branch of chemistry concerned with nuclear reactions, radioactive substances and is the study of the chemical and physical properties of elements when influenced by changes in structure of the atomic nucleus.

In modern times it is referred to as radiochemistry and has become interdisciplinary in its applications ranging from the study of the formation of the elements in the universe to the design of radioactive drugs for diagnostic medicine. Today chemical techniques pioneered by nuclear chemists are so essential that biologists, geologists and physicists use nuclear chemistry as ordinary tools of their discipline. The significance and what nuclear chemistry involves all plays a role on how it is significant to the entire world.

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Overall nuclear chemistry is an interesting type of chemistry used more and more often in modern times with mind blowing facts on its origins, positive and negative effects on the world and how it functions or is put to use in today’s society. First, like almost everything else in the world, there is an origin or history of nuclear chemistry on how it came about in this world and how it lead to what nuclear chemistry is known as today. Taken from the encyclopedia, commonly known as Wikipedia, is the origins of this fascinating type of chemistry.

After the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Rontgen, a French chemist Henri Becquerel began to work on ionizing radiation and investigated the relationship between phosphorescence and the blackening of photographic plates. See the “Discovery of Radioactivity” article’s diagram below at end of paragraph. Becquerel discovered that, with no external source of energy (uranium that created rays which could blacken/fog the photographic plate) radioactivity was discovered.

Polish scientist Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie isolated two new radioactive elements from uranium ore and isolated polonium and radium. In about 1901, the world began to notice that high doses of radiation could cause injury to humans when Henri Becquerel carried a sample of radium in his pocket and suffered a high localized dose and radiation burn. These injuries lead to the biological properties of radiation being investigated, which eventually resulted in the development of medical treatments.

These beginnings of the study of nuclear chemistry are very unique and interesting but also hint at the positive and negative effects this type of chemistry would bring to the world. Furthermore, the background of this amazing type of chemistry briefly explains some of the positive effects nuclear chemistry has on the world but as it developed over the years, its importance to the environment and world became clear.

Taken from the nonfiction book Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry Third Edition, the authors explain how cancer is becoming more and more common, sadly, in the world and how the problems with over usage of radiation to treat cancer are being resolved on a molecular level. Also, the book explained how radiation damages the human body the human DNA but, on a molecular level, are finding ways to use molecular formulas to construct solutions as radiation protection as well as new drugs to take to stop the disease from spreading in the body (Choppin, Liljenzin, Rydberg 475, 478).

See West, Jones and Price’s diagram (diagram of patient in a scanner). Relating back to the concept of chemistry here, the creation of using this molecular formulas to deal with the original radiation problem lead to the creation of better functioning X-Rays in hospitals which provides a safer usage of radiation and allows doctor to examine the insides of patients without doing any serious damage to them. Taken from an ACS website created by the Franklin Institute Science Museum, it goes in depth on the positive effects of nuclear chemistry on the world, specifically on the environment.

Nuclear energy is the most environmentally efficient of all energy sources because it produces the most electricity in relation to its minimal environmental impact and there are no significant adverse effects to water, land, habitat, species, and air resources. Nuclear energy is an emission-free energy source because it does not burn anything to produce electricity and nuclear power plants produce no gases such as nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide that could threaten our atmosphere by causing ground-level ozone formation, smog, and acid rain (“Nuclear Energy” 1).

See Westenhaus’s Nuclear Power plant diagram below at the end of the paragraph. The usage of nuclear chemistry through nuclear energy (ex. Nuclear power plants) in modern times has proven to have a minimal effect on the environment proving that Nuclear Chemistry is in fact beneficial to the world. Despite all of the great positive effects that nuclear chemistry has brought to the world through its existence, there are still quite a few negative effects it has on the world. On the other hand, Nuclear Chemistry may be an astonishing type of chemistry but there are still a few parts to it that bring negative effects to today’s society.

In one of the AHS databases, Gale, was found an article that discusses how nuclear chemistry took a negative of affect in some drugs. Scientists at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) have warned against the panic buying of potassium-iodide tablets as the crisis in Japan continues. Experts have also cautioned against scaremongering over the effects of the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plant. One drug supplier said it has sold 250,000 pills to US citizens concerned about possible exposure from Japanese nuclear reactors (“NEWS: Drugs Panic Goes Nuclear” 1).

The chemicals exposed in these drugs in the US from the Japanese nuclear reactors is a threat to the lives of thousands of US citizens and shows that the use of Nuclear Chemistry is interfering with prescription drugs which displays one of the negative effects of Nuclear Chemistry. Another and terrible downside to this type of chemistry is how nuclear chemists are being used in the world to make a large amount of deadly nuclear weapons capable of killing areas with large populations of people.

For example, from another AHS database called Galileo, an article explaining about the climate effects on nuclear conflict assumes a scenario of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, each applying 50 warheads with an individual blasting power of 15 kt (“Hiroshima size”) against the major population centers, resulting in the emission of tiny soot particles, which are generated in the firestorms expected in the aftermath of the detonations.

Also, in the stratosphere, the strong heating leads to an acceleration of catalytic ozone loss and, consequently, to enhancements of UV radiation at the ground (Stenke, Hoyle, Luo, Rozanov, Grobner, Maag, Bronnimann, Peter 1). See the “Teller-Ulam Two-stage Thermonuclear Bomb” articles diagram below at the end of the paragraph. Not only does this article prove that major conflict between countries in the world arises from the production of nuclear weapons, but it also prove how harmful it is to the stratosphere and the environment which is why the only way to stop this problem is to just get rid of and stop the production of these weapons.

Overall, it is tragic that people have found a way to use this great of chemistry to put in drugs and weapons to hurt people and the environment but the list goes continues on how nuclear chemistry is used in the world today. Moreover, as today’s society continues to grow and find new discoveries in science, the nuclear chemistry or radiation of the world becomes more noticeable to people in their everyday lives. Taken from the Prentice Hall Chemistry Textbook in Chapter 25, Nuclear Chemistry, Section 4 it talked about common devices such as Geiger counters, scintillation counters and film badges used to detect radiation.

A Geiger counter uses a gas filled metal tube to detect radiation and is capable of detecting alpha, beta and gamma radiation. The scintillation counter uses a phosphor-coated surface to detect radiation and is designed to detect all types of ionizing radiation. As for the film badge, it consists of several layers of photographic film covered with black lightproof paper, all encased in a plastic or metal holder and is an important radiation detector for persons who work near any radiation source.

These different radiation detectors are essential in the world because they depict the different types of radiation that are visible to the human eye. Also, radiation has been found harmful to humans but through neutron activation analysis scientific procedure, nuclear chemists can detect trace amounts of elements in samples and are commonly used by museums to detect art forgeries and by crime laboratories to analyze gunpowder residues. See Glascock’s diagram below at end of paragraph.

Radioisotopes are even used to diagnose medical problems and in some cases treat diseases (Wilbraham, Staley, Matta, Waterman 816-819). The use of radioisotopes and scientific procedures for safely using radiation have proven essential and beneficial to helping people in the medical field, detectives and so on. All of the different inventions or procedures used to detect or use radiation correctly have become useful to the citizens of the world which displays how nuclear chemistry has evolved overtime to be more commonly noticed and used in modern times.

Lastly, after examining the abilities that nuclear chemistry can do through its usage in modern times, how it effects the world positively and negatively as well as the origins of it, it was easy to determine that the sky is only limit for this type of chemistry involving its effects it can have on the world. The early experiments of the first nuclear chemists started to research of radiation and radioactive elements in the world. Also, the use of nuclear energy at nuclear power plants have proven helpful to the environment in the world and serve as a positive effect that nuclear chemistry has on the world.

On the other hand, the negative effects that nuclear chemistry has brought to the world is international conflict over nuclear weapons as well as deadly prescription drugs that being contaminated with the produce of nuclear power plants which have proven to be life threating. Another effect is how beneficial nuclear chemistry developments have been to the people of the world in various different ways. In conclusion, Nuclear Chemistry is an interesting type of chemistry that has proven to have a long lasting impact on society since its existence and will continue to do as it continues to progress.

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