In recent days, we have heard very interesting news about nuclear fusion. It is a way of generating energy that is still far from being efficient, although with recent research it seems possible that it will be in the future. Meanwhile, in the area nuclear physics, division this remains the only possible way to obtain energy. It has been known for many more years and has been much more refined since it was discovered by several scientists in the 30s of the last century. One of them was Enrico Fermi, Italian physicist who today is considered the first person to manage to split the nucleus in two. All this, as is often the case in science, by pure chance.

In fact, he himself did not know what he had done, and it took several years for other scientists to confirm this. He is believed to have developed the first nuclear reactor and is known to many as the creator of the atomic bomb. However, the issue of nuclear fission is more complicated, since several physicists have participated in it. Among them are several women.

But what exactly happened? How can you split the core and not be aware of it?

Nuclear fission: when atoms “crack”

Current nuclear reactors They work by nuclear fission. That is, the division of the nucleus of heavy atoms into lighter ones. This is a very energetic process that also releases neutrons from the split nucleus, which collide with other atoms, causing new fission and so on.

the role of Fermi

Until we reached nuclear fission, we had to go a long way, on which many scientists intervened.

The first, Irene Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot They discovered artificial radioactivity. That is, they managed to make atoms of stable elements decay radioactively by bombarding certain particles under certain conditions.

The discovery was a milestone, as it could have many uses. For this reason, many other scientists continued to work on it. One of them was Fermi himself, who wanted to try to do the same, but using neutrons. french couple used alpha particleswhich is the problem of being deflected by positive charge nuclear protons. This is addressed by a larger energy contribution with particle accelerators. For this reason, Fermi, who was not in the laboratory particle acceleratorthought that the solution might lie in neutrons. These are uncharged particles, so they won’t drift and they won’t need as much energy.

He decided to do this with a radon-beryllium neutron source. first bombed platinum, unsuccessfully. However, he later moved on to aluminum and other elements, which eventually decayed as if they were radioactive. Overall, it caused radioactivity in 22 different elements, was an important milestone in the recent history of nuclear physics. In the case of uranium, he discovered the release of atoms lighter than the original, which, in his opinion, must be new elements, which he called hesperium and ausonium. This hypothesis has been challenged by chemistry Ida Noddack, who indicated that, in some experiments, lighter atoms could be made by bombarding new neutrons released in the process. However, his hypothesis was not taken seriously, since at that time it was not believed that nuclear fission was possible.

So, in 1938 Fermi received the Nobel Prize for “his demonstration of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by irradiation with neutrons, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions caused by slow neutrons.” Nothing else.

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Nuclear fission that went unnoticed

In 1939 the physicist Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Frischreproduced Fermi’s experiments and confirmed that when bombarding uranium with neutrons, new lighter atoms, with the same atomic weight. These were not new elements, but the splitting of the uranium atom. Thus, it was demonstrated that nuclear fission was indeed possible and that, in fact, Fermi had already achieved it many years ago without even realizing it.

It was one of those discoveries that came by accident and can sometimes go unnoticed. To this day, many scientists consider this oversight a good one. At least the discovery that led to the creation of the atomic bomb was 5 years too late. If I were more advanced maybe The Second World War it would be even bloodier than it was. And these are big words.

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Source: Hiper Textual

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