What is Nucleonics?

Jessica Reed

Nucleonics is a branch of physics that deals with the nuclei of atoms and building devices for experimenting on atoms' nuclei. Physics deals with how matter interacts with and produces forces of energy, and nucleonics focuses particularly on how atoms can create energy. The study of nuclear energy and nuclear reactions falls into this category, thus also earning nucleonics the more commonly used name nuclear physics. This area studies all the different reactions a scientist can create from combining and splitting apart the very center of an atom. The most commonly known discovery was the invention of the atomic bomb, which got its destructive force from splitting apart atoms.

A replica of an atomic bomb.
A replica of an atomic bomb.

Ernest Rutherford is credited with coming up with the modern day concept of the nucleus. His observations showed that alpha rays would scatter when they hit an atom and he concluded that a nucleus must exist to cause this scattering effect. His work, combined later with the help of Niels Bohr, led to a theory detailing the structural makeup of an atom. While adjustments are still made to the theory as new discoveries emerge, the general structure is still considered valid and relied upon by researchers and scientists.

Nucleonics focuses on how atoms can create energy.
Nucleonics focuses on how atoms can create energy.

Today, nucleonics studies the nucleons found in the nucleus at the center of an atom. More than one nucleon can exist in a single atom and scientists attempt to classify these particles and understand how they work. Different theories aim to explain scientific mysteries occurring on the microscopic scale of an atom. Some scientists believe that still smaller particles exist that they simply do not have the technology to view yet. Further explorations slowly lead to the discovery of smaller and smaller microscopic building blocks which make up all matter in the world people live in.

These discoveries, along with the theory that even smaller particles are still waiting to be discovered, have led nucleonics to break off into a separate area of study known as particle physics. This studies electrons, neutrons, and protons, which most people were told make up atoms. It also delves deeper into less commonly known particles such as quarks. For these unimaginably small particles to show any sign of existence at all, they must bounce into each other at high rates of speed. Nucleonics and particle physics work on developing instruments, such as the particle accelerator, which make these conditions possible.

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