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A Brief Note on Neutrons and Protons in Nuclear Atoms

Jackson Henry*

Department of Physics, University of Illinois, Illinois, USA

*Corresponding Author:
Jackson Henry
Department of Physics, University of Illinois, Illinois, USA

Received: 25-May-2022 Manuscript No. JPAP-22-52077; Editor assigned: 27-May-2022 Pre QC No. JPAP-22-52077(PQ); Reviewed: 10-Jun-2022, QC No. JPAP-22-52077; Revised: 17-Jun-2022, Manuscript No. JPAP-22-52077(R) Published: 24-Jun-2022, DOI:10.4172/2320-2459.10.S2.003.

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The nucleus of an atom consists of neutrons and protons, which in turn are the manifestation of more elementary particles, called quarks that are held in association by the nuclear strong force in certain stable combinations of hadrons, called baryons. The nuclear strong force extends far enough from each baryon so as to bind the neutrons and protons together against the repulsive electrical force between the positively charged protons. The nuclear strong force has a very short range, and essentially drops to zero just beyond the edge of the nucleus [1,2].

The collective action of the positively charged nucleus is to hold the electrically negative charged electrons in their orbits about the nucleus. The collection of negatively charged electrons orbiting the nucleus display an affinity for certain configurations and numbers of electrons that make their orbits stable. Which chemical element an atom represents is determined by the number of protons in the nucleus; the neutral atom will have an equal number of electrons orbiting that nucleus. Individual chemical elements can create more stable electron configurations by combining to share their electrons. It is that sharing of electrons to create stable electronic orbits about the nuclei that appears to us as the chemistry of our macro world [3-6].

Protons define the entire charge of a nucleus, and hence its chemical identity. Neutrons are electrically neutral, but contribute to the mass of a nucleus to nearly the same extent as the protons. Neutrons can explain the phenomenon of isotopes (same atomic number with different atomic mass). The main role of neutrons is to reduce electrostatic repulsion inside the nucleus.

Protons and neutrons are fermions, with different values of the strong isospin quantum number, so two protons and two neutrons can share the same space wave function since they are not identical quantum entities. They are sometimes viewed as two different quantum states of the same particle, the nucleon. Two fermions, such as two protons, or two neutrons, or a proton + neutron (the deuteron) can exhibit bosonic behavior when they become loosely bound in pairs, which have integer spin. In the rare case of a hyper nucleus, a third baryon called a hyperon, containing one or more strange quarks and/or other unusual quark(s), can also share the wave function [7]. However, this type of nucleus is extremely unstable and not found on Earth except in high-energy physics experiments. The neutron has a positively charged core of radius ≈ 0.3 fm surrounded by a compensating negative charge of radius between 0.3 fm and 2 fm. The proton has an approximately exponentially decaying positive charge distribution with a mean square radius of about 0.8 fm. Nuclei can be spherical, rugby ball-shaped (prolate deformation), discus-shaped (oblate deformation), triaxial (a combination of oblate and prolate deformation) or pear-shaped. Nuclei are bound together by the residual strong force (nuclear force) [8,9]. The residual strong force is a minor residuum of the strong interaction which binds quarks together to form protons and neutrons. This force is much weaker between neutrons and protons because it is mostly neutralized within them, in the same way that electromagnetic forces between neutral atoms (such as van der Waals forces that act between two inert gas atoms) are much weaker than the electromagnetic forces that hold the parts of the atoms together internally (for example, the forces that hold the electrons in an inert gas atom bound to its nucleus) [10].


The nuclear force is highly attractive at the distance of typical nucleon separation, and this overwhelms the repulsion between protons due to the electromagnetic force, thus allowing nuclei to exist. However, the residual strong force has a limited range because it decays quickly with distance (see Yukawa potential); thus only nuclei smaller than a certain size can be completely stable. The largest known completely stable nucleus (i.e. stable to alpha, beta, and gamma decay) is lead-208 which contains a total of 208 nucleons (126 neutrons and 82 protons). Nuclei larger than this maximum are unstable and tend to be increasingly short-lived with larger numbers of nucleons. However, bismuth-209 is also stable to beta decay and has the longest half-life to alpha decay of any known isotope, estimated at a billion times longer than the age of the universe. The residual strong force is effective over a very short range (usually only a few femtometres (fm); roughly one or two nucleon diameters) and causes an attraction between any pair of nucleons.