Greene, Geoffrey L. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Last reviewed:June 2020
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- Neutrons in nuclei
- Intrinsic properties
- Sources of free neutrons
- Penetrating power
- Detection of neutrons
- Ultracold neutrons
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A fundamental, subatomic particle possessing approximately the same mass as the proton, but lacking a net electric charge. The neutron is critical in the structure of the elements, constituting the atomic nuclei along with protons for all elements heavier than hydrogen-1 (Fig. 1). Neutrons also occur freely in nature, where they are an important reactant in nuclear research and the propagating agent of fission chain reactions. The free particle is further used in medical therapies for treating cancer. While stable in many nuclei, the free neutron radioactively decays with a mean lifetime of approximately 880 s. (This corresponds to a “half-life” of approximately 610 s.) See also: Atom; Atomic nucleus; Atomic physics; Electric charge; Element (chemistry); Half-life; Nuclear fission; Nuclear physics; Nuclear reactor; Periodic table; Proton; Radioactivity
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