Neutron

Neutron

Overview
The neutron is a subatomic
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 hadron
Hadron
In particle physics, a hadron is a composite particle made of quarks held together by the strong force...

 particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 and a mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 slightly larger than that of a proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. With the exception of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

, nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s consist of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleon
Nucleon
In physics, a nucleon is a collective name for two particles: the neutron and the proton. These are the two constituents of the atomic nucleus. Until the 1960s, the nucleons were thought to be elementary particles...

s. The number of protons in a nucleus is the atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 and defines the type of element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 the atom forms. Neutrons are necessary within an atomic nucleus as they bind with protons via the strong force
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

; protons are unable to bind with each other due to their mutual electromagnetic repulsion being stronger than the attraction of the strong force.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Neutron'
Start a new discussion about 'Neutron'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The neutron is a subatomic
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 hadron
Hadron
In particle physics, a hadron is a composite particle made of quarks held together by the strong force...

 particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 and a mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 slightly larger than that of a proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. With the exception of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

, nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s consist of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleon
Nucleon
In physics, a nucleon is a collective name for two particles: the neutron and the proton. These are the two constituents of the atomic nucleus. Until the 1960s, the nucleons were thought to be elementary particles...

s. The number of protons in a nucleus is the atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 and defines the type of element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 the atom forms. Neutrons are necessary within an atomic nucleus as they bind with protons via the strong force
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

; protons are unable to bind with each other due to their mutual electromagnetic repulsion being stronger than the attraction of the strong force. The number of neutrons is the neutron number
Neutron number
The neutron number, symbol N, is the number of neutrons in a nuclide.Atomic number plus neutron number equals mass number: Z+N=A....

 and determines the isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 of an element. For example, the abundant carbon-12
Carbon-12
Carbon-12 is the more abundant of the two stable isotopes of the element carbon, accounting for 98.89% of carbon; it contains 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons....

 isotope has 6 protons and 6 neutrons, while the very rare radioactive carbon-14
Carbon-14
Carbon-14, 14C, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues , to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological...

 isotope has 6 protons and 8 neutrons.

While bound neutrons in stable nuclei are stable, free neutrons are unstable; they undergo beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 with a mean lifetime of just under 15 minutes . Free neutrons are produced in nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 and fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

. Dedicated neutron source
Neutron source
A Neutron source is a device that emits neutrons. There is a wide variety of different sources, ranging from hand-held radioactive sources to neutron research facilities operating research reactors and spallation sources...

s like research reactor
Research reactor
Research reactors are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source. They are also called non-power reactors, in contrast to power reactors that are used for electricity production, heat generation, or maritime propulsion.-Purpose:...

s and spallation sources
Spallation
In general, spallation is a process in which fragments of material are ejected from a body due to impact or stress. In the context of impact mechanics it describes ejection or vaporization of material from a target during impact by a projectile...

 produce free neutrons for use in irradiation
Irradiation
Irradiation is the process by which an object is exposed to radiation. The exposure can originate from various sources, including natural sources. Most frequently the term refers to ionizing radiation, and to a level of radiation that will serve a specific purpose, rather than radiation exposure to...

 and in neutron scattering
Neutron scattering
Neutron scattering,the scattering of free neutrons by matter,is a physical processand an experimental technique using this processfor the investigation of materials.Neutron scattering as a physical process is of primordial importance...

 experiments. Even though it is not a chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

, the free neutron is sometimes included in tables of nuclides. It is then considered to have an atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 of zero and a mass number
Mass number
The mass number , also called atomic mass number or nucleon number, is the total number of protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus. Because protons and neutrons both are baryons, the mass number A is identical with the baryon number B as of the nucleus as of the whole atom or ion...

 of one, and is sometimes referred to as neutronium
Neutronium
Neutronium is a proposed name for a substance composed purely of neutrons. The word was coined by scientist Andreas von Antropoff in 1926 for the conjectured "element of atomic number zero" that he placed at the head of the periodic table...

.

The neutron has been the key to nuclear power production. After the neutron was discovered in 1932, it was realized in 1933 that it might mediate a nuclear chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

. In the 1930s, neutrons were used to produce many different types of nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or isotope into another. In other words, atoms of one element can be changed into atoms of other element by 'transmutation'...

s. When nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 was discovered in 1938, it was soon realized that this might be the mechanism to produce the neutrons for the chain reaction, if the process also produced neutrons, and this was proven in 1939, making the path to nuclear power production evident. These events and findings led directly to the first man-made nuclear chain reaction which was self-sustaining (Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1 was the world's first man-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on December 2, 1942...

, 1942) and to the first nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s (1945).

Discovery


In 1920, Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 conceptualized the possible existence of the neutron. In particular, Rutherford considered that the disparity found between the atomic number of an atom and its atomic mass could be explained by the existence of a neutrally charged particle within the atomic nucleus. He considered the neutron to be a neutral double consisting in an electron orbiting a proton.

In 1930 Viktor Ambartsumian and Dmitri Ivanenko
Dmitri Ivanenko
Dmitri Ivanenko , Professor of Moscow State University , made a great contribution to the physical science of the twentieth century, especially to nuclear physics, field theory , and gravitation theory.His outstanding achievements include:* the Fock-Ivanenko coefficients of parallel...

 in USSR found that, contrary to the prevailing opinion of the time, the nucleus cannot consist of protons and electrons. They proved that some neutral particles must be present besides the protons.

In 1931, Walther Bothe
Walther Bothe
Walther Wilhelm Georg Bothe was a German nuclear physicist, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 with Max Born....

 and Herbert Becker in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 found that if the very energetic alpha particle
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

s emitted from polonium
Polonium
Polonium is a chemical element with the symbol Po and atomic number 84, discovered in 1898 by Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie. A rare and highly radioactive element, polonium is chemically similar to bismuth and tellurium, and it occurs in uranium ores. Polonium has been studied for...

 fell on certain light elements, specifically beryllium
Beryllium
Beryllium is the chemical element with the symbol Be and atomic number 4. It is a divalent element which occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals. Notable gemstones which contain beryllium include beryl and chrysoberyl...

, boron
Boron
Boron is the chemical element with atomic number 5 and the chemical symbol B. Boron is a metalloid. Because boron is not produced by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element in both the solar system and the Earth's crust. However, boron is concentrated on Earth by the...

, or lithium
Lithium
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly...

, an unusually penetrating radiation was produced. At first this radiation was thought to be gamma radiation, although it was more penetrating than any gamma rays known, and the details of experimental results were very difficult to interpret on this basis. The next important contribution was reported in 1932 by Irène Joliot-Curie
Irène Joliot-Curie
Irène Joliot-Curie was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies...

 and Frédéric Joliot in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. They showed that if this unknown radiation fell on paraffin
Paraffin
In chemistry, paraffin is a term that can be used synonymously with "alkane", indicating hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n+2. Paraffin wax refers to a mixture of alkanes that falls within the 20 ≤ n ≤ 40 range; they are found in the solid state at room temperature and begin to enter the...

, or any other hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

-containing compound, it ejected protons of very high energy. This was not in itself inconsistent with the assumed gamma ray nature of the new radiation, but detailed quantitative analysis of the data became increasingly difficult to reconcile with such a hypothesis.

In 1932, James Chadwick
James Chadwick
Sir James Chadwick CH FRS was an English Nobel laureate in physics awarded for his discovery of the neutron....

 performed a series of experiments at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, showing that the gamma ray hypothesis was untenable. He suggested that the new radiation consisted of uncharged particles of approximately the mass of the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

, and he performed a series of experiments verifying his suggestion. These uncharged particles were called neutrons, apparently from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 root for neutral and the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ending -on (by imitation of electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

and proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

).

The discovery of the neutron explained a puzzle involving the spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 of the nitrogen-14 nucleus, which had been experimentally measured to be 1 ħ. It was known that atomic nuclei usually had about half as many positive charges as if they were composed completely of protons, and in existing models this was often explained by proposing that nuclei also contained some "nuclear electrons" to neutralize the excess charge. Thus, nitrogen-14 would be composed of 14 protons and 7 electrons to give it a charge of +7 but a mass of 14 atomic mass units. However, it was also known that both protons and electrons carried an intrinsic spin of  ħ, and there was no way to arrange an odd number (21) of spins ± ħ to give a spin of 1 ħ. Instead, when nitrogen-14 was proposed to consist of 3 pairs of protons and neutrons, with an additional unpaired neutron and proton each contributing a spin of  ħ in the same direction for a total spin of 1 ħ, the model became viable. Soon, nuclear neutrons were used to naturally explain spin differences in many different nuclides in the same way, and the neutron as a basic structural unit of atomic nuclei was accepted.

Stability and beta decay


Under the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 of particle physics, because the neutron consists of three quark
Quark
A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly...

s, the only possible decay mode without a change of baryon number is for one of the quarks to change flavour via the weak interaction
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

. The neutron consists of two down quark
Down quark
The down quark or d quark is the second-lightest of all quarks, a type of elementary particle, and a major constituent of matter. It, along with the up quark, forms the neutrons and protons of atomic nuclei...

s with charge − e
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

 and one up quark
Up quark
The up quark or u quark is the lightest of all quarks, a type of elementary particle, and a major constituent of matter. It, along with the down quark, forms the neutrons and protons of atomic nuclei...

 with charge + e, and the decay of one of the down quarks into a lighter up quark can be achieved by the emission of a W boson. By this means the neutron decays into a proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 (which contains one down and two up quarks), an electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

, and an electron antineutrino
Electron neutrino
The electron neutrino is a subatomic lepton elementary particle which has no net electric charge. Together with the electron it forms the first generation of leptons, hence its name electron neutrino...

.

Outside the nucleus, free neutrons are unstable and have a mean lifetime of (about 14 minutes, 42 seconds); therefore the half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

 for this process (which differs from the mean lifetime by a factor of ) is (about 10 minutes, 11 seconds). Free neutrons decay by emission of an electron and an electron antineutrino to become a proton, a process known as beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

:
→ + +


Neutrons in unstable nuclei can also decay in this manner. However, inside a nucleus, protons can also transform into a neutron via inverse beta decay. This transformation occurs by emission of a antielectron (also called positron) and a neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

:
→ + +


The transformation of a proton to a neutron inside of a nucleus is also possible through electron capture
Electron capture
Electron capture is a process in which a proton-rich nuclide absorbs an inner atomic electron and simultaneously emits a neutrino...

:
+ → +

Positron capture by neutrons in nuclei that contain an excess of neutrons is also possible, but is hindered because positrons are repelled by the nucleus, and quickly annihilate
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

 when they encounter electrons.

When bound inside of a nucleus, the instability of a single neutron to beta decay is balanced against the instability that would be acquired by the nucleus as a whole if an additional proton were to participate in repulsive interactions with the other protons that are already present in the nucleus. As such, although free neutrons are unstable, bound neutrons are not necessarily so. The same reasoning explains why protons, which are stable in empty space, may transform into neutrons when bound inside of a nucleus.

Electric dipole moment


The Standard Model of particle physics
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 predicts a tiny separation of positive and negative charge within the neutron leading to a permanent electric dipole moment
Electric dipole moment
In physics, the electric dipole moment is a measure of the separation of positive and negative electrical charges in a system of charges, that is, a measure of the charge system's overall polarity with SI units of Coulomb-meter...

. The predicted value is, however, well below the current sensitivity of experiments. From several unsolved puzzles in particle physics, it is clear that the Standard Model is not the final and full description of all particles and their interactions. New theories going beyond the Standard Model
Beyond the Standard Model
Physics beyond the Standard Model refers to the theoretical developments needed to explain the deficiencies of the Standard Model, such as the origin of mass, the strong CP problem, neutrino oscillations, matter–antimatter asymmetry, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy...

 generally lead to much larger predictions for the electric dipole moment of the neutron. Currently, there are at least four experiments trying to measure for the first time a finite neutron electric dipole moment, including:
  • Cryogenic neutron EDM experiment being set up at the Institut Laue-Langevin
    Institut Laue-Langevin
    The Institut Laue–Langevin, or ILL, is an internationally-financed scientific facility, situated in Grenoble, France. It is one of the world centres for research using neutrons...

  • nEDM experiment under construction at the new UCN source at the Paul Scherrer Institute
    Paul Scherrer Institute
    The Paul Scherrer Institute is a multi-disciplinary research institute which belongs to the Swiss ETH-Komplex covering also the ETH Zurich and EPFL...

  • nEDM experiment being envisaged at the Spallation Neutron Source
    Spallation Neutron Source
    The Spallation Neutron Source is an accelerator-based neutron source facility that provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development...

  • nEDM experiment being built at the Institut Laue-Langevin
    Institut Laue-Langevin
    The Institut Laue–Langevin, or ILL, is an internationally-financed scientific facility, situated in Grenoble, France. It is one of the world centres for research using neutrons...


Magnetic moment



Even though the neutron is a neutral particle, the magnetic moment of a neutron is not zero because it is a composite particle containing three charged quarks.

Anti-neutron


The antineutron is the antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 of the neutron. It was discovered by Bruce Cork
Bruce Cork
Bruce Cork was a physicist who discovered the antineutron in 1956 while working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.-External links:* *...

 in the year 1956, a year after the antiproton
Antiproton
The antiproton is the antiparticle of the proton. Antiprotons are stable, but they are typically short-lived since any collision with a proton will cause both particles to be annihilated in a burst of energy....

 was discovered. CPT-symmetry puts strong constraints on the relative properties of particles and antiparticles, so studying antineutrons yields provide stringent tests on CPT-symmetry. The fractional difference in the masses of the neutron and antineutron is . Since the difference is only about two standard deviation
Standard deviation
Standard deviation is a widely used measure of variability or diversity used in statistics and probability theory. It shows how much variation or "dispersion" there is from the average...

s away from zero, this does not give any convincing evidence of CPT-violation.

Structure and geometry of charge distribution within the neutron


An article published in 2007 featuring a model-independent analysis concluded that the neutron has a negatively charged exterior, a positively charged middle, and a negative core. In a simplified classical view, the negative "skin" of the neutron assists it to be attracted to the protons with which it interacts in the nucleus. However, the main attraction between neutrons and protons is via the nuclear force
Nuclear force
The nuclear force is the force between two or more nucleons. It is responsible for binding of protons and neutrons into atomic nuclei. The energy released causes the masses of nuclei to be less than the total mass of the protons and neutrons which form them...

, which does not involve charge.

Dineutrons and tetraneutrons


The existence of stable clusters of 4 neutrons, or tetraneutrons, has been hypothesised by a team led by Francisco-Miguel Marqués at the CNRS Laboratory for Nuclear Physics based on observations of the disintegration of beryllium
Beryllium
Beryllium is the chemical element with the symbol Be and atomic number 4. It is a divalent element which occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals. Notable gemstones which contain beryllium include beryl and chrysoberyl...

-14 nuclei. This is particularly interesting because current theory suggests that these clusters should not be stable.

The dineutron
Dineutron
A dineutron is a hypothetical particle consisting of two neutrons that was suggested to have a transitory existence in nuclear reactions produced by helions that result in the formation of a proton and a nucleus having the same atomic number as the target nucleus but a mass number two units greater...

 is another hypothetical particle.

Neutronium and neutron stars


At extremely high pressures and temperatures, nucleons and electrons are believed to collapse into bulk neutronic matter, called neutronium
Neutronium
Neutronium is a proposed name for a substance composed purely of neutrons. The word was coined by scientist Andreas von Antropoff in 1926 for the conjectured "element of atomic number zero" that he placed at the head of the periodic table...

. This is presumed to happen in neutron star
Neutron star
A neutron star is a type of stellar remnant that can result from the gravitational collapse of a massive star during a Type II, Type Ib or Type Ic supernova event. Such stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons, which are subatomic particles without electrical charge and with a slightly larger...

s.

The extreme pressure inside a neutron star may deform the neutrons into a cubic symmetry, allowing tighter packing of neutrons.

Detection


The common means of detecting a charged
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

 by looking for a track of ionization (such as in a cloud chamber
Cloud chamber
The cloud chamber, also known as the Wilson chamber, is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. In its most basic form, a cloud chamber is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it...

) does not work for neutrons directly. Neutrons that elastically scatter off atoms can create an ionization track that is detectable, but the experiments are not as simple to carry out; other means for detecting neutrons, consisting of allowing them to interact with atomic nuclei, are more commonly used. The commonly used methods to detect neutrons can therefore be categorized according to the nuclear processes relied upon, mainly neutron capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

 or elastic scattering
Elastic scattering
In scattering theory and in particular in particle physics, elastic scattering is one of the specific forms of scattering. In this process, the kinetic energy of the incident particles is conserved, only their direction of propagation is modified .-Electron elastic scattering:When an alpha particle...

. A good discussion on neutron detection is found in chapter 14 of the book Radiation Detection and Measurement by Glenn F. Knoll (John Wiley & Sons, 1979).

Neutron detection by neutron capture


A common method for detecting neutrons involves converting the energy released from neutron capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

 reactions into electrical signals. Certain nuclides have a high probability to absorb a neutron. Upon neutron capture, the compound nucleus emits more easily detectable radiation, for example an alpha particle, which is then detected. The nuclides , , , , , and are useful for this purpose.

Neutron detection by elastic scattering


Neutrons can elastically scatter off nuclei, causing the struck nucleus to recoil. Kinematically, a neutron can transfer more energy to light nuclei such as hydrogen or helium than to heavier nuclei. Detectors relying on elastic scattering are called fast neutron detectors. Recoiling nuclei can ionize and excite further atoms through collisions. Charge and/or scintillation light produced in this way can be collected to produce a detected signal. A major challenge in fast neutron detection is discerning such signals from erroneous signals produced by gamma radiation in the same detector.

Fast neutron detectors have the advantage of not requiring a moderator, and therefore being capable of measuring the neutron's energy, time of arrival, and in certain cases direction of incidence.

Uses


The neutron plays an important role in many nuclear reactions. For example, neutron capture often results in neutron activation
Neutron activation
Neutron activation is the process in which neutron radiation induces radioactivity in materials, and occurs when atomic nuclei capture free neutrons, becoming heavier and entering excited states. The excited nucleus often decays immediately by emitting particles such as neutrons, protons, or alpha...

, inducing radioactivity. In particular, knowledge of neutrons and their behavior has been important in the development of nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s and nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s. The fissioning
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 of elements like uranium-235
Uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

 and plutonium-239
Plutonium-239
Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium. Plutonium-239 is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons, although uranium-235 has also been used and is currently the secondary isotope. Plutonium-239 is also one of the three main isotopes demonstrated usable as fuel in...

 is caused by their absorption of neutrons.

Cold, thermal and hot
Neutron temperature
The neutron detection temperature, also called the neutron energy, indicates a free neutron's kinetic energy, usually given in electron volts. The term temperature is used, since hot, thermal and cold neutrons are moderated in a medium with a certain temperature. The neutron energy distribution is...

 neutron radiation
Neutron radiation
Neutron radiation is a kind of ionizing radiation which consists of free neutrons. A result of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, it consists of the release of free neutrons from atoms, and these free neutrons react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes, which, in turn, may produce...

 is commonly employed in neutron scattering
Neutron scattering
Neutron scattering,the scattering of free neutrons by matter,is a physical processand an experimental technique using this processfor the investigation of materials.Neutron scattering as a physical process is of primordial importance...

 facilities, where the radiation is used in a similar way one uses X-ray
X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

s for the analysis of condensed matter
Condensed Matter
Condensed matter may refer to several things*Condensed matter physics, the study of the physical properties of condensed phases of matter*European Physical Journal B: Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, a scientific journal published by EDP sciences...

. Neutrons are complementary to the latter in terms of atomic contrasts by different scattering cross sections
Cross section (physics)
A cross section is the effective area which governs the probability of some scattering or absorption event. Together with particle density and path length, it can be used to predict the total scattering probability via the Beer-Lambert law....

; sensitivity to magnetism; energy range for inelastic neutron spectroscopy; and deep penetration into matter.

The development of "neutron lenses" based on total internal reflection within hollow glass capillary tubes or by reflection from dimpled aluminum plates has driven ongoing research into neutron microscopy and neutron/gamma ray tomography.

A major use of neutrons is to excite delayed and prompt gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

s from elements in materials. This forms the basis of neutron activation analysis
Neutron activation analysis
In chemistry, neutron activation analysis is a nuclear process used for determining the concentrations of elements in a vast amount of materials. NAA allows discrete sampling of elements as it disregards the chemical form of a sample, and focuses solely on its nucleus. The method is based on...

 (NAA) and prompt gamma neutron activation analysis
Prompt gamma neutron activation analysis
Prompt-gamma neutron activation analysis is a very widely applicable technique for determining the presence and amount of many elements simultaneously in samples ranging in size from micrograms to many grams. It is a non-destructive method, and the chemical form and shape of the sample are...

 (PGNAA). NAA is most often used to analyze small samples of materials in a nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 whilst PGNAA is most often used to analyze subterranean rocks around bore holes and industrial bulk materials on conveyor belts.

Another use of neutron emitters is the detection of light nuclei, particularly the hydrogen found in water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 molecules. When a fast neutron collides with a light nucleus, it loses a large fraction of its energy. By measuring the rate at which slow neutrons return to the probe after reflecting off of hydrogen nuclei, a neutron probe
Neutron probe
A neutron probe is a device used to measure the quantity of water present in soil.A typical neutron probe contains a pellet of americium-241 and beryllium. The alpha particles emitted by the decay of the americium collide with the light beryllium nuclei, producing fast neutrons...

 may determine the water content in soil.

Sources


Because free neutrons are unstable, they can be obtained only from nuclear disintegrations, nuclear reactions, and high-energy reactions (such as in cosmic radiation showers or accelerator collisions). Free neutron beams are obtained from neutron source
Neutron source
A Neutron source is a device that emits neutrons. There is a wide variety of different sources, ranging from hand-held radioactive sources to neutron research facilities operating research reactors and spallation sources...

s by neutron transport
Neutron transport
Neutron transport is the study of the motions and interactions of neutrons with materials. Nuclear scientists and engineers often need to know where neutrons are in an apparatus, what direction they are going, and how quickly they are moving. It is commonly used to determine the behavior of nuclear...

. For access to intense neutron sources, researchers must go to a specialist neutron facility
Neutron facilities
A neutron research facility is a big laboratory operating a large-scale neutron source that provides thermal neutrons to a suite of research instruments.The neutron source is either a research reactor or a spallation source.- Research practice :...

 that operates a research reactor
Research reactor
Research reactors are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source. They are also called non-power reactors, in contrast to power reactors that are used for electricity production, heat generation, or maritime propulsion.-Purpose:...

 or a spallation
Spallation
In general, spallation is a process in which fragments of material are ejected from a body due to impact or stress. In the context of impact mechanics it describes ejection or vaporization of material from a target during impact by a projectile...

 source.

The neutron's lack of total electric charge makes it difficult to steer or accelerate them. Charged particles can be accelerated, decelerated, or deflected by electric
Electric field
In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...

 or magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

s. These methods have little effect on neutrons beyond a small effect of an inhomogeneous magnetic field because of the neutron's magnetic moment
Neutron magnetic moment
The neutron magnetic moment is the magnetic moment of the neutron. It is of particular interest, as magnetic moments are created by the movement of electric charges. Since the neutron is a neutral particle, the magnetic moment is an indication of substructure, i.e...

. Neutrons can be controlled by methods that include moderation
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

, reflection
Neutron reflector
A neutron reflector is any material that reflects neutrons. This refers to elastic scattering rather than to a specular reflection. The material may be graphite, beryllium, steel, and tungsten carbide, or other materials...

 and velocity selection
Neutron velocity selector
A Neutron Velocity Selector is a device that allows neutrons of defined velocity to pass while absorbing all other neutrons, used for the purpose of producing a monochromatic neutron beam. It has the appearance of a many-bladed turbine...

.

Protection


Exposure to free neutrons can be hazardous, since the interaction of neutrons with molecules in the body can cause disruption to molecules and atoms, and can also cause reactions which give rise to other forms of radiation
Radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

 (such as protons). The normal precautions of radiation protection apply: avoid exposure, stay as far from the source as possible, and keep exposure time to a minimum. Some particular thought must be given to how to protect from neutron exposure, however. For other types of radiation, e.g. alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

s, material of a high atomic number and with high density make for good shielding; frequently lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 is used. However, this approach will not work with neutrons, since the absorption of neutrons does not increase straightforwardly with atomic number, as it does with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Instead one needs to look at the particular interactions neutrons have with matter (see the section on detection above). For example, hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

-rich materials are often used to shield against neutrons, since ordinary hydrogen both scatters and slows neutrons. This often means that simple concrete blocks or even paraffin-loaded plastic blocks afford better protection from neutrons than do far more dense materials. After slowing, neutrons may then be absorbed with an isotope which has high affinity for slow neutrons without causing secondary capture-radiation, such as lithium-6.

Hydrogen-rich ordinary water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 affects neutron absorption in nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 reactors: usually neutrons are so strongly absorbed by normal water that fuel-enrichment with fissionable isotope is required. The deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 in heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

 has a very much lower absorption affinity for neutrons than does protium (normal light hydrogen). Deuterium is therefore used in CANDU-type reactors, in order to slow (moderate
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

) neutron velocity, to increase the probability of nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 compared to neutron capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

.

Production



Various nuclides become more stable by expelling neutrons as a decay mode; this is known as neutron emission
Neutron emission
Neutron emission is a type of radioactive decay of atoms containing excess neutrons, in which a neutron is simply ejected from the nucleus. Two examples of isotopes which emit neutrons are helium-5 and beryllium-13...

, and happens commonly during spontaneous fission
Spontaneous fission
Spontaneous fission is a form of radioactive decay characteristic of very heavy isotopes. Because the nuclear binding energy reaches a maximum at a nuclear mass greater than about 60 atomic mass units , spontaneous breakdown into smaller nuclei and single particles becomes possible at heavier masses...

.

Cosmic radiation
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

 interacting with the Earth's atmosphere continuously generates neutrons that can be detected at the surface. Even stronger neutron radiation is produced at the surface of Mars where the atmosphere is thick enough to generate neutrons from cosmic ray spallation, but not thick enough to provide significant protection from the neutrons produced. These neutrons not only produce a Martian surface neutron radiation hazard from direct downward-going neutron radiation, but also a significant hazard from reflection of neutrons from the Martian surface, which will produce reflected neutron radiation penetrating upward into a Martian craft or habitat from the floor.

Nuclear fission reactors
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 naturally produce free neutrons; their role is to sustain the energy-producing chain reaction
Chain reaction
A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events....

. The intense neutron radiation
Neutron radiation
Neutron radiation is a kind of ionizing radiation which consists of free neutrons. A result of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, it consists of the release of free neutrons from atoms, and these free neutrons react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes, which, in turn, may produce...

 can also be used to produce various radioisotopes through the process of neutron activation
Neutron activation
Neutron activation is the process in which neutron radiation induces radioactivity in materials, and occurs when atomic nuclei capture free neutrons, becoming heavier and entering excited states. The excited nucleus often decays immediately by emitting particles such as neutrons, protons, or alpha...

, which is a type of neutron capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

.

Experimental nuclear fusion reactors
Fusion power
Fusion power is the power generated by nuclear fusion processes. In fusion reactions two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus . In doing so they release a comparatively large amount of energy arising from the binding energy due to the strong nuclear force which is manifested...

 produce free neutrons as a waste product. However, it is these neutrons that possess most of the energy, and converting that energy to a useful form has proved a difficult engineering challenge. Fusion reactors which generate neutrons are likely to create around twice the amount of radioactive waste of a fission reactor, but the waste is composed of neutron-activated lighter isotopes, which have relatively short (50–100 years) decay periods as compared to typical half lives of 10,000 years for fission waste, which is long primarily due to the long half life of alpha-emitting transuranic actinides.

Thermal neutrons


A thermal neutron is a free neutron that is Boltzmann distributed with kT = at room temperature. This gives characteristic (not average, or median) speed of 2.2 km/s. The name 'thermal' comes from their energy being that of the room temperature gas or material they are permeating. (see kinetic theory
Kinetic theory
The kinetic theory of gases describes a gas as a large number of small particles , all of which are in constant, random motion. The rapidly moving particles constantly collide with each other and with the walls of the container...

for energies and speeds of molecules). After a number of collisions (often in the range of 10–20) with nuclei, neutrons arrive at this energy level, provided that they are not absorbed.

In many substances, thermal neutrons have a much larger effective cross-section than faster neutrons, and can therefore be absorbed more easily by any atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 that they collide with, creating a heavier — and often unstable — isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 of the chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 as a result.

Most fission reactors
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 use a neutron moderator
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

 to slow down, or thermalize the neutrons that are emitted by nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 so that they are more easily captured, causing further fission. Others, called fast breeder reactors, use fission energy neutrons directly.

Cold neutrons


Cold neutrons are thermal neutrons that have been equilibrated in a very cold substance such as liquid deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

. Such a cold source is placed in the moderator of a research reactor or spallation source. Cold neutrons are particularly valuable for neutron scattering
Neutron scattering
Neutron scattering,the scattering of free neutrons by matter,is a physical processand an experimental technique using this processfor the investigation of materials.Neutron scattering as a physical process is of primordial importance...

 experiments.

Ultracold neutrons


Ultracold neutrons
Ultracold neutrons
Ultracold neutrons are free neutrons which can be stored in traps made from certain materials. The storage is based on the reflection of UCN by such materials under any angle of incidence.- Properties :...

 are produced by inelastically scattering cold neutrons in substances with a temperature of a few kelvins, such as solid deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 or superfluid helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

. An alternative production method is the mechanical deceleration of cold neutrons.

Fission energy neutrons


A fast neutron is a free neutron with a kinetic energy level close to , hence a speed of ~ (~ 6% of the speed of light). They are named fission energy or fast neutrons to distinguish them from lower-energy thermal neutrons, and high-energy neutrons produced in cosmic showers or accelerators. Fast neutrons are produced by nuclear processes such as nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

.

Fast neutrons can be made into thermal neutrons via a process called moderation. This is done with a neutron moderator
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

. In reactors, typically heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

, light water
Light water reactor
The light water reactor is a type of thermal reactor that uses normal water as its coolant and neutron moderator. Thermal reactors are the most common type of nuclear reactor, and light water reactors are the most common type of thermal reactor...

, or graphite
Graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

 are used to moderate neutrons.

Fusion neutrons




D-T (deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

-tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

) fusion is the fusion reaction that produces the most energetic neutrons, with 14.1 MeV
MEV
MeV and meV are multiples and submultiples of the electron volt unit referring to 1,000,000 eV and 0.001 eV, respectively.Mev or MEV may refer to:In entertainment:* Musica Elettronica Viva, an Italian musical group...

 of kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 and traveling at 17% of the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

. D-T fusion is also the easiest fusion reaction to ignite, reaching near-peak rates even when the deuterium and tritium nuclei have only a thousandth as much kinetic energy as the 14.1 MeV that will be produced.

14.1 MeV neutrons have about 10 times as much energy as fission neutrons, and are very effective at fissioning even non-fissile
Fissile
In nuclear engineering, a fissile material is one that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. By definition, fissile materials can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of any energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons...

 heavy nuclei, and these high-energy fissions produce more neutrons on average than fissions by lower-energy neutrons. This makes D-T fusion neutron sources such as proposed tokamak
Tokamak
A tokamak is a device using a magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus . Achieving a stable plasma equilibrium requires magnetic field lines that move around the torus in a helical shape...

 power reactors useful for transmutation
Nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or isotope into another. In other words, atoms of one element can be changed into atoms of other element by 'transmutation'...

 of transuranic waste. 14.1 MeV neutrons can also produce neutrons by knocking them loose from nuclei
Spallation
In general, spallation is a process in which fragments of material are ejected from a body due to impact or stress. In the context of impact mechanics it describes ejection or vaporization of material from a target during impact by a projectile...

.

On the other hand, these very high energy neutrons are less likely to simply be captured without causing fission or spallation
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

. For these reasons, nuclear weapon design
Nuclear weapon design
Nuclear weapon designs are physical, chemical, and engineering arrangements that cause the physics package of a nuclear weapon to detonate. There are three basic design types...

 extensively utilizes D-T fusion 14.1 MeV neutrons to cause more fission. Fusion neutrons are able to cause fission in ordinarily non-fissile materials, such as depleted uranium
Depleted uranium
Depleted uranium is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope U-235 than natural uranium . Uses of DU take advantage of its very high density of 19.1 g/cm3...

 (uranium-238), and these materials have been used in the jackets of thermonuclear weapons. Fusion neutrons also can cause fission in substances that are unsuitable or difficult to make into primary fission bombs, such as reactor grade plutonium. This physical fact thus causes ordinary non-weapons grade materials to become of concern in certain nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...

 discussions and treaties.

Other fusion reactions produce much less energetic neutrons. D-D fusion produces a 2.45 MeV neutron and helium-3
Helium-3
Helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It is rare on Earth, and is sought for use in nuclear fusion research...

 half of the time, and produces tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 and a proton but no neutron the other half of the time. D-3He fusion produces no neutron.

Intermediate-energy neutrons



A fission energy neutron that has slowed down but not yet reached thermal energies is called an epithermal neutron.

Cross sections
Cross section (physics)
A cross section is the effective area which governs the probability of some scattering or absorption event. Together with particle density and path length, it can be used to predict the total scattering probability via the Beer-Lambert law....

 for both capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

 and fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 reactions often have multiple resonance
Resonance
In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies...

 peaks at specific energies in the epithermal energy range.
These are of less significance in a fast neutron reactor
Fast neutron reactor
A fast neutron reactor or simply a fast reactor is a category of nuclear reactor in which the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons...

 where most neutrons are absorbed before slowing down to this range, or in a well-moderated
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

 thermal reactor
Thermal reactor
A thermal reactor is a nuclear reactor that uses slow or thermal neutrons. Most power reactors are of this type. These type of reactors use a neutron moderator to slow neutrons until they approach the average kinetic energy of the surrounding particles, that is, to reduce the speed of the neutrons...

 where epithermal neutrons mostly interact with moderator nuclei, not with either fissile
Fissile
In nuclear engineering, a fissile material is one that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. By definition, fissile materials can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of any energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons...

 or fertile
Fertile material
Fertile material is a term used to describe nuclides which generally themselves do not undergo induced fission but from which fissile material is generated by neutron absorption and subsequent nuclei conversions...

 actinide
Actinide
The actinide or actinoid series encompasses the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium.The actinide series derives its name from the group 3 element actinium...

 nuclides.
However, in a partially moderated reactor with more interactions of epithermal neutrons with heavy metal nuclei, there are greater possibilities for transient
Transient state (chemical engineering)
In chemical engineering, a system is said to be in transient state when a process variable has been changed and the system has not yet reached steady-state....

 changes in reactivity
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

 which might make reactor control more difficult.

Ratios of capture reactions to fission reactions are also worse (more captures without fission) in most nuclear fuel
Nuclear fuel
Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy. Nuclear fuels are the most dense sources of energy available...

s such as plutonium-239
Plutonium-239
Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium. Plutonium-239 is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons, although uranium-235 has also been used and is currently the secondary isotope. Plutonium-239 is also one of the three main isotopes demonstrated usable as fuel in...

, making epithermal-spectrum reactors using these fuels less desirable, as captures not only waste the one neutron captured but also usually result in a nuclide
Nuclide
A nuclide is an atomic species characterized by the specific constitution of its nucleus, i.e., by its number of protons Z, its number of neutrons N, and its nuclear energy state....

 which is not fissile
Fissile
In nuclear engineering, a fissile material is one that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. By definition, fissile materials can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of any energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons or fast neutrons...

 with thermal or epithermal neutrons, though still fissionable with fast neutrons. The exception is uranium-233
Uranium-233
Uranium-233 is a fissile isotope of uranium, bred from Thorium as part of the thorium fuel cycle. It has been used in a few nuclear reactors and has been proposed for much wider use as a nuclear fuel. It has a half-life of 160,000 years....

 of the thorium cycle which has good capture-fission ratios at all neutron energies.

High-energy neutrons


These neutrons have more energy than fission energy neutrons and are generated as secondary particles by particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s or in the atmosphere from cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s. They can have energies as high as tens of joule
Joule
The joule ; symbol J) is a derived unit of energy or work in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy expended in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre , or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second...

s per neutron. These neutrons are extremely efficient at ionization
Ionization
Ionization is the process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions. This is often confused with dissociation. A substance may dissociate without necessarily producing ions. As an example, the molecules of table sugar...

 and far more likely to cause cell
Cell (biology)
The cell is the basic structural and functional unit of all known living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and is often called the building block of life. The Alberts text discusses how the "cellular building blocks" move to shape developing embryos....

 death than X-rays or protons.

See also


  • Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation is a kind of ionizing radiation which consists of free neutrons. A result of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, it consists of the release of free neutrons from atoms, and these free neutrons react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes, which, in turn, may produce...

  • List of particles
  • Nuclear reaction
    Nuclear reaction
    In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

  • Thermal reactor
    Thermal reactor
    A thermal reactor is a nuclear reactor that uses slow or thermal neutrons. Most power reactors are of this type. These type of reactors use a neutron moderator to slow neutrons until they approach the average kinetic energy of the surrounding particles, that is, to reduce the speed of the neutrons...

  • Ionizing radiation
    Ionizing radiation
    Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...

  • Isotope
    Isotope
    Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

  • Neutron flux
    Neutron flux
    The neutron flux is a quantity used in reactor physics corresponding to the total length travelled by all neutrons per unit time and volume . The neutron fluence is defined as the neutron flux integrated over a certain time period....

  • Neutron generator
    Neutron generator
    Neutron generators are neutron source devices which contain compact linear accelerators and that produce neutrons by fusing isotopes of hydrogen together. The fusion reactions take place in these devices by accelerating either deuterium, tritium, or a mixture of these two isotopes into a metal...

  • Neutron magnetic moment
    Neutron magnetic moment
    The neutron magnetic moment is the magnetic moment of the neutron. It is of particular interest, as magnetic moments are created by the movement of electric charges. Since the neutron is a neutral particle, the magnetic moment is an indication of substructure, i.e...

  • Neutron capture nucleosynthesis
    Neutron capture nucleosynthesis
    Neutron capture nucleosynthesis describes two nucleosynthesis pathways: the r-process and the s-process, for rapid and slow neutron captures, respectively. R-process describes neutron capture in a region of high neutron flux, such as during supernova nucleosynthesis after core-collapse, and yields...

    • R-process
      R-process
      The r-process is a nucleosynthesis process, likely occurring in core-collapse supernovae responsible for the creation of approximately half of the neutron-rich atomic nuclei that are heavier than iron. The process entails a succession of rapid neutron captures on seed nuclei, typically Ni-56,...

    • S-process
      S-process
      The S-process or slow-neutron-capture-process is a nucleosynthesis process that occurs at relatively low neutron density and intermediate temperature conditions in stars. Under these conditions the rate of neutron capture by atomic nuclei is slow relative to the rate of radioactive beta-minus decay...

  • Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation
    Neutron radiation is a kind of ionizing radiation which consists of free neutrons. A result of nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, it consists of the release of free neutrons from atoms, and these free neutrons react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes, which, in turn, may produce...

     and the Sievert radiation scale
    Sievert
    The sievert is the International System of Units SI derived unit of dose equivalent radiation. It attempts to quantitatively evaluate the biological effects of ionizing radiation as opposed to just the absorbed dose of radiation energy, which is measured in gray...


Processes involving neutrons

  • Neutron bomb
    Neutron bomb
    A neutron bomb or enhanced radiation weapon or weapon of reinforced radiation is a type of thermonuclear weapon designed specifically to release a large portion of its energy as energetic neutron radiation rather than explosive energy...

  • Neutron diffraction
    Neutron diffraction
    Neutron diffraction or elastic neutron scattering is the application of neutron scattering to the determination of the atomic and/or magnetic structure of a material: A sample to be examined is placed in a beam of thermal or cold neutrons to obtain a diffraction pattern that provides information of...

  • Neutron flux
    Neutron flux
    The neutron flux is a quantity used in reactor physics corresponding to the total length travelled by all neutrons per unit time and volume . The neutron fluence is defined as the neutron flux integrated over a certain time period....

  • Neutron transport
    Neutron transport
    Neutron transport is the study of the motions and interactions of neutrons with materials. Nuclear scientists and engineers often need to know where neutrons are in an apparatus, what direction they are going, and how quickly they are moving. It is commonly used to determine the behavior of nuclear...


Further reading