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Physics - Particle and Nuclear Physics | Unravelling the Mystery of the Atomic Nucleus - A Sixty Year Journey 1896 — 1956

Unravelling the Mystery of the Atomic Nucleus

A Sixty Year Journey 1896 — 1956

Fernandez, Bernard, Ripka, Georges

Translation from French

2013, XVIII, 530 p.

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  • A non-technical and non-mathematical account of how atomic nuclei were discovered and the physical laws which govern them
  • A comprehensive account of the historical development of nuclear physics, both from the experimental and the theoretical point of view
  • Physicists who contributed to these developments are presented in their historical context with biographical details

Unravelling the Mystery of the Atomic Nucleus tells the story of how, in the span of barely sixty years, we made a transition from the belief that matter was composed of indivisible atoms, to the discovery that in the heart of each atom lies a nucleus which is ten thousand times smaller than the atom, which nonetheless carries almost all its mass, and the transformations of which involve energies that could never be reached by chemical reactions. It was not a smooth transition. The nature of nuclei, their properties, the physical laws which govern their behaviour, and the possibility of controlling to some extent their transformations, were discovered in discontinuous steps, following paths which occasionally led to errors which in turn were corrected by further experimental discoveries. The story begins in 1896 when radioactivity was unexpectedly discovered and continues up to the nineteen-sixties. The authors describe the spectacular progress made by physics during that time, which not only revealed a new form of matter, namely nuclei, but also modified our way of thinking by developing quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.

The book is written in a clear and non mathematical language which makes it both accessible and instructive to laymen, physicists and students, as well as to historians of science. It delves into subjects which are of utmost importance for the understanding of matter in our universe and for understanding how this knowledge was achieved.

Content Level » Research

Keywords » discovery of nuclear fission - discovery of radioactivity - early atomic physics - history of nuclear physics - history of physics - quantum mechanics

Related subjects » Chemistry - History & Philosophical Foundations of Physics - History of Science - Particle and Nuclear Physics

Table of contents 

Foreword.- Chapter 1. Radioactivity, the First Puzzles.- The “Uranic Rays” of Henri Becquerel.- Polonium and Radium.- Emanation from Thorium.- The Puzzle is Disentangled.- Consecrations and Mourning: the End of an Era.- Chapter 2. A Nucleus at the Heart of the Atom.- Prehistory of the Atom.- 1897: The Electrons Are in the Atom.- The Scattering of α Particles Makes It Possible to “See” a Nucleus in the Atom.- A Last Ingredient: Moseley Measures the Charge of the Nucleus in the Atom.- Chapter 3. Quantum Mechanics, the Unavoidable Path.- Branching Off.- An Improbable Beginning.- Niels Bohr: The Quanta Are in the Atom.- 1913-1923: Victories and Setbacks.- 1925: Spin and the Pauli Principle.- Quantum Mechanics.- Chapter 4. A Timid Infancy.- The Atomic Nucleus in 1913.- The Discovery of Isotopes and the Measurement of Masses of Nuclei.- An Enquiry Full of Surprises: β Radioactivity.- The First Nuclear Reactions.- The Nucleus in 1920 According to Rutherford.- The Rapid Expansion of Experimental Means.- The Atomic Nucleus in 1930.- Chapter 5. 1930-1940: A Dazzling Development.- The Nucleus: A New Boundary.- The Discovery of the Neutron.- Nuclear Theory After the Discovery of the Neutron.- A New Particle: The Positron.- The Birth of Particle Accelerators.- “Charge Independence” of the Nuclear Force.- The Discovery of Artificial Radioactivity.- The School of Rome.- The Great Exodus of Jewish Scientists Under Nazism.- A Proliferation of Theories: Yukawa, Breit and Wigner, Bohr.- The Death of a Giant: Ernest Rutherford.- Hans Bethe Sums Up the Situation in 1936-1937.- The Fission of Uranium.- Chapter 6. The Upheavals of the Second World War.- A Chronology.- The New Face of Physics After the War.- Chapter 7. The Time of Maturity.- New Experimental Means.- Data Accumulate.- The “Shell” Structure of Nuclei.- Elastic Scattering and the “Optical Model”.- Direct Nuclear Reactions.- A Collective Behavior.- A Unified Model of the Nucleus.- The Nuclear Force.- Nuclear Matter.- Chapter 8. Where the Narrative Ends.- Glossary.- Bibliography of Cited Books.- Index.

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