Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of X-rays, Neutrons, and High Voltage

Photo of single Rubidium-85 atom
The other day I was researching X-rays and neutron generators. I was struggling with terms because it’s been many years since I studied physics. I knew the terms, and was familiar with them, but alas, I’d forgotten the definitions. After spending a huge amount of energy resisting what I knew needed to be done, I bit the bullet.

I finally googled ‘x-rays’ and ‘neutron generators’. Which lead me to atoms which lead me to nuclei, which lead me to neutrons, protons, electrons, and strong and weak forces. The actual discussion is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but for an in-depth review, consider visitingthe Wikipedia entry, and you’ll see what I mean about needing a refresher.

Maybe you struggle with different things, but what really helped me in differentiating between neutrons and protons, was the simple notion that neutrons kind of keep the nucleus of the atom like glue, since protons (being of like charge and all), repel each other. That neutrons have slightly higher mass than protons made sense too, even though they are generally found in the same amount within the atom.

I used to confuse ions and isotopes too. I was excited to (re)learn that isotopes have a different number of neutrons than that of protons within the nucleus. Ions are atoms that have a positive or negative charge because of a variation in the number of electrons.

Electrons are in orbit around the nucleus. Neutrons and protons are in the nucleus of the atom.

The moral of the story is one or two words (or images) can really make a difference in being understood. And of course, you’re never too old to learn.

As for me, I’m still muddling my way through neutron generation. But that is a tale for a different day.

When's the last time you resisted doing something you know you needed to do?

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