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# 1

Nuclear decay Nuclear decay
2
Nuclear decay Nuclear decay
• Curie, Becquerel
• dN decay in a time dt
( )
t
e N t N
N
dt
dN
N dN
λ
λ

=
− =

0
3
λ = decay constant = probability of a
nucleus decaying per second
Half-life = time for half the nuclei to
decay
λ
2 ln
2
1
= t
λ
τ
1
=
N
t
4
• Units: 1 Becquerel (Bq) = 1
decay/second
• 1 Curie (Ci) = 3.7 x 10
10
• 3 types of radiation emitted
spontaneously
α =
4
He nucleus (2 p and 2 n)
β = e

or e
+
γ = high-energy photons (keV,
MeV)
5
Effect of a magnetic field Effect of a magnetic field
B into page
gamma
alpha (+)
beta –
X
X
6
• Decay rate (“Activity”)
• Half-life e.g.
( ) t N e N
dt
dN
R
t
λ λ
λ
= = =

0
hr t N
o
1 & 20
2
1
= =
etc
5 2
10 1
20 0
N t (hr)
7
α α decay decay
8
α α decay decay
α-particle is a
4
He nucleus (2p & 2n)
• Z ↓ by 2
• N ↓ by 2
• A ↓ by 4
α + →

− 2
4
2 N
A
Z N
A
Z
Y X
“parent” “daughter”
α + → Th U
234
90
238
92
yrs t
9
10 47 . 4
2
1
× =
9
Disintegration energy Disintegration energy
( )
2
c m M M Q
D P α
− − =
MeV
c m Q
u m M M
u m
u M
u M
Th U
Th
U
275 . 4
502 . 931 004589 . 0
004589 . 0
002602 . 4
043593 . 234
050784 . 238
2
=
× = ⋅ ∆ =
= − −
=
=
=
α
α
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Disintegration energy Disintegration energy
• Most of the energy (Q) is KE of α
• Decay occurs if Q > 0 (energy
released)
• Spontaneous decay does not occur if Q
< 0
Conservation of momentum (daughter +
alpha) and Energy gives …
( )
|
¹
|

\
|

⋅ =
A
A
Q KE
4
α
( ) MeV KE U g e 2 . 4
238
234
275 . 4 . .
238
= |
¹
|

\
|
× = α
( ) ) (daughter KE KE Q + = α
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Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
(1) How do α-particles with
KE ~ 4 MeV escape the nucleus
while incoming α-particles with
KE ~ 10 MeV are scattered ?
(2) KE(α) range is ~ 4 to 9 MeV but
half-life varies over 24 orders of
magnitude !
(nanoseconds to billions of years)
12
Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
• 1911: Geiger & Nuttall noticed
that large Q ↔short half-life
• 1928: Gamow, Gurney, Condon
et al. QM tunnelling through a
nuclear potential barrier by α
• The tunnelling model works well,
even though it supposes the α to be
preformed inside the nucleus.
Krane 8.3
13
Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
α experiences a Coulombic potential
barrier
Z-2
r
{ }
3
1
3
1
) 4 ( 4 2 . 1 ~ ) (
) (
) 2 ( 88 . 2
) (
4
) 2 ( 2
) (
0
2
− +

=
− ×
=
A fm R
fm r
Z
MeV V
r
e Z
r V
πε
14
Barrier height Barrier height
{ }
MeV
MeV
fm fm R
9 . 27
3 . 9
90 88 . 2
~
) ( height Barrier
3 . 9 234 4 2 . 1 ~ ) (
3
1
3
1
=
×

= +
α + → Th U
234
90
238
92
27.9 MeV
4.2 MeV
9.3 fm
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Barrier width Barrier width
fm width
fm r
MeV
r
q q
V
4 . 52 3 . 9 7 . 61
7 . 61
2 . 4
4
0
2 1
= − = ∴
= ∴
= =
πε
28 MeV
4.2 MeV
9.3 fm
61.7 fm
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Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
• An early triumph of QM was
the Geiger-Nuttall relation
. log log
2
1
Const K n t = ⋅ +
α
constant
Livesey 9.44
) log(
2
1
t
) log(
α
K
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Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
1
2
2
0
2
0
3
0 2
2
1
1
) ( sinh
) ( 4
1
) (
) ( 2
) (
2
) (
1
2 2
1 1

(
¸
(

¸

+ = =
=
− =
+ =
=
+ =
R k
E V E
V
A A
F F
T
Fe x
E V m k
De Ce x
mE k
Be Ae x
x ik
x k x k
x ik x ik
φ
φ
φ
h
h
1 2 3
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Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
2
1
2
1
) ( 98 . 2
4
8
) ( 97 . 3
2
2
exp ~
0
2
0
2

= =
= =
)
`
¹
¹
´
¦
+ −
fm
me
b
MeV
m e
a
ZR b
E
Z
a T
πε
ε
h
h
E = α energy in MeV
R = radius of ‘daughter’ in fm
Z = atomic number of parent
19
Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
39
10 6 ) 88 exp(
3 . 9 90 98 . 2
2 . 4
90
97 . 3 exp ~
3 . 9 ~ & 90 , 2 . 4

× = − =
)
`
¹
¹
´
¦
× + −
= =
T
fm R Z MeV E
D
Thus, the probability of an α particle
tunnelling out of the nucleus when it
‘hits’ the potential barrier is VERY SMALL.
BUT ----- how many times does the α ‘hit’
the barrier per second ?
i.e. How many escape attempts ?
α + → Th U
234
90
238
92
20
Theory of Theory of α α- -decay decay
α
v
R
t
2
= Time to ‘cross’ the nucleus is
Attempt frequency
(“knocking rate”) is R
v
t
f
2
1
α
= =
Alpha particle speed = ?
s m
m
E
v
MeV m MeV E
/ 10 4 . 1 ~
2
) 4 . 3727 ( 2 . 4 ~
7
× = ∴
=
α
α
1 20
15
7
10 5 . 7 ~
10 3 . 9 2
10 4 . 1

×
× ×
×
= ∴ s f
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Half Half- -life of life of α α- -decay decay
) 10 46 . 4 expt (
10 9 . 4 10 54 . 1
2 ln
10 5 . 4 10 5 . 7 10 6
9
9 17
1 18 20 39
2
1
2
1
yr
yr s t
t
s
× =
× = × = ∴
= =
× = × × ×
− − −
λ
α + → Th U
234
90
238
92
22
Half Half- -life of life of α α- -decay decay
) 310 expt (
2
10 4 . 3
10 14 . 1
/ 10 06 . 2
10 3 ~
9 . 17 0 . 9 9 . 26 width Barrier
2 . 26 height Barrier
02 . 9
78 . 8
2
1
1 8
1 21
7
13
ns
ns t
s f T
s f
s m v
T
fm fm
MeV
fm R
MeV E
=
= ∴
= × = ⋅
× =
× =
×
= − =
=
=
=

λ
α
α
α + → Pb Po
208
82
212
84
23
β β decay decay
24
β β decay decay
β-particles are electrons or positrons
(anti-electrons)
• Z changes by +1 or –1
• N changes by –1 or +1
• A is unchanged

− +
+ → β
1 1 N
A
Z N
A
Z
Y X

+ → β N C
14
7
14
6
+
+ −
+ → β
1 1 N
A
Z N
A
Z
Y X
(Not the whole story – see neutrinos)
25
• Mechanisms
β β decay decay

+ → e p n
+
+ → e n p
n e p → +

β– β+
or “Electron Capture”
an ‘atomic’ electron
The e

or e
+
is NOT present in the
nucleus prior to decay – it is created
during the decay process.
Uncertainty calculation
26
β β decay decay
MeV Q
d t
e Po Bi
16 . 1
5
2
1
210
84
210
83
=
=
+ + →

L
Eisberg & Resnick 16.10
A range of energies !
27
β β decay decay
• The masses of the parent and
daughter nuclei are both fixed so why is
there a range of KE (β) ?
• Problems with ‘Energy
Conservation’ and ‘Momentum
Conservation’
• 1930: Pauli – there must be
another particle involved !
• 1934: Fermi – “neutrino”
• VERY (!) weakly interacting
0 = q
0 ≈ m
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Neutrino in Neutrino in β β decay decay
Momentum conservation problem
e

cf
e

ν
29
Neutrino Neutrino
• Three fermions: all have spin = ½
• Spin angular momentum is not conserved
in the above reaction
• The ‘other’ particle must have spin = ½
+
+ → e n p
½ ½ ½
e
e n p ν β + + →
+ +
:
e
e p n ν β + + →
− −
:
Electron-anti-neutrino
Electron-neutrino
Cannot occur for a FREE proton ….. ?
Decay of a free neutron. ‘Lifetime’ ~ 886 s
30
Neutrino detection Neutrino detection
• 1956: Reines & Cowan
+
+ → + e n p
e
ν
γ + → → + Cd Cd Cd n
109 * 109 108
γ γ + → +
− +
e e
Detect the reaction by detecting the 3 gamma-rays
31
An application of An application of β β- -decay decay
“Carbon Dating” “Carbon Dating”
• The ratio of
14
C to
12
C is ~ 1.3 x 10
–12
• Living organisms exchange CO
2
with
surroundings so ratio is ~ stable.
• Exchange stops at death so ratio ↓ because
the
14
C decays.
e
e N C ν + + →
− 14
7
14
6
yrs t 5730
2
1
=
32
25 g charcoal
14
C activity = 250 decays/min
Decay constant
1 12
10 83 . 3
2 ln
2
1
− −
× = = s
t
λ
Number of
12
C nuclei in 25 g
24 23
10 26 . 1
12
25
10 02 . 6 × = × × =
( )
12 12 24 14
10 6 . 1 10 3 . 1 10 26 . 1 × = × × × =

C N
o
Initial activity (at death)
min / 370 sec / 13 . 6 decays decays N R
o o
= = =λ
yrs t e
e N R
t
t
3239 370 250
0
= → =
=

λ
λ
λ
33
Decay energy Decay energy
( )
( )
( )
2
2
2
:
2 :
:
c M M Q EC
c m M M Q
c M M Q
D P
e D P
D P
− =
− − =
− =
+

β
β
If the decay energy Q were shared ONLY
between the Daughter atom and the beta
particle, there would NOT be a range of beta
energies !
Conservation of energy and momentum
would be enough to define the beta energy
34
Theory of Theory of β β- -decay decay
In general, a transition rate depends on
(1) The strength of the interaction
causing the transition i.e. the
“coupling” between the initial and
final states
(2) The number of ways that the
transition can occur (= density of
final states)
cf
35
Theory of Theory of β β- -decay decay

= dv V V
i f fi
ψ ψ
*
Describe the strength of the interaction
with an operator (‘potential’) V
Define a “matrix element”
The ‘initial’ and ‘final’ states are
coupled by the operator V
36
Fermi’s Golden Rule Fermi’s Golden Rule
f fi fi
V ρ
π
λ
2 2
h
=
The transition probability is given by
The nature of the interaction was
unknown at the time !
The density of states can be calculated
in ‘Phase Space’ : a 6-dim space
defined by 3 spatial coordinates and 3
momentum coordinates
2
e
f
f
p
dE
dp
dp
dn
dE
dn
∝ ⋅ = = ρ
37
Fermi’s Golden Rule Fermi’s Golden Rule
The beta-decay must include both the
electron and the associated anti-
neutrino
2 2
2
ν
ν
p p
dp dp
n d
e
e
∝ =
2 2
) (
e e
e e
E E p
c
dE
dp
c p E E E E
− ∝ ∴
=
+ = + =
ρ
ν
ν ν
Ignores recoil KE of daughter atom.
Assumes neutrino has zero mass
38
(Fermi (Fermi- -) ) Kurie Kurie plot plot
The transition rate is therefore:
) (
) (
2 2
e
e
e e
E E
p
E E p
− ∝ ∴
− ∝
λ
λ
Krane 9.4
e
p
λ
e
E
Ga
66
Q
39
β β- -decay, spin & parity decay, spin & parity
Fermi decay: electron and anti-neutrino
spins are antiparallel
No I = ∆ = ∆ π & 0
Gamow-Teller decay: electron and
anti-neutrino spins are parallel
No I = ∆ ± = ∆ π & 1 , 0
0 0 →
Except
This assumes that the electron and the anti-
neutrino do not carry orbital angular
momentum
40
β β- -decay, spin & parity decay, spin & parity
Calculate the decay rate using the Fermi
or the Gamow-Teller mechanisms.
Mirror-decays are mixed transitions:
e
e p n ν + + →

GT F % 82 % 18 +
C N
13
6
13
7

GT F % 24 % 76 +
Non-Mirror-decays are GT-dominant:
GT % 98 ≥
41
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
(1) V = SCALAR SCALAR
Spatially-dependent terms which are
scalars i.e. independent of direction
No change in parity
‘Integrand’ must have EVEN parity to
give a non-zero integral

= dv V V
i f fi
ψ ψ
*
f i
ψ ψ & Both EVEN or both ODD
i.e. same parity
42
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
(2) V = SCALAR SCALAR
But the spatially-dependent part is a
POLAR vector e.g.
i.e. ODD parity
have different parities
f i
ψ ψ &
r
r
43
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
(3) V = AXIAL AXIAL
Contains an AXIAL vector e.g.
Vector product of two polar vectors i.e.
both have ODD parity
So, product has EVEN parity
have same parity f i
ψ ψ &
p r l
r r
r
× =
44
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
(4) V = PSEUDO PSEUDO- -SCALAR SCALAR
Scalar product of a POLAR and an
AXIAL vector e.g.
Product has ODD parity
have different parities
f i
ψ ψ &
a
r
b b
r r
=

0 > ⋅ b a
r
r
a a
r r
− =

0 <

b a
r
r
b
r
45
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
(5) V = VECTOR VECTOR
Scalar product of 2 POLAR vectors
Product has EVEN parity
have same parities
f i
ψ ψ &
) ( ) ( b a b a
r
r
r
r
− ⋅ − = ⋅
(6) V = TENSOR TENSOR
46
β β- -decay mechanism ? decay mechanism ?
FERMI model assumed a pure
VECTOR interaction
GAMOW-TELLER assumed a
TENSOR or AXIAL interaction. Takes
into account the spins.
Now we know that the Nuclear WEAK
interaction is Vector-Axial. Strength is
–6
of the Nuclear Strong force.
Later, we’ll look at The Standard Model.
No I = ∆ = ∆ π & 0
No I = ∆ ± = ∆ π & 1 , 0
47
γ γ decay decay
48
γ γ decay decay
• Isomer – a nucleus in an excited
energy state
• No change in Z, N or A
• Nucleus can also de-excite by
‘Internal Conversion’ (excess energy
given to an ATOMIC electron)
γ + → Ag Ag
m 110 110
free electron
nucleus
atom
49
γ γ decay decay
and Magnetic
• Opposite parities
• L = 1 → Dipole
• L = 2 → Quadrupole
• L = 3 → Octupole
• L = 4 → Hexadecapole etc
1
) 1 ( ) ( & ) 1 ( ) (
+
− = − =
L L
ML EL π π
50
γ γ decay decay
• Transition between nuclear
states:
• A multipole of order
transfers angular
momentum per photon
• ‘Electric’ or ‘Magnetic’
depends on parities of nuclear
states
f i
I I → 
γ
L
h L
f i
I L I
r r r
+ =
( ) 4 , 3 , 2 , 1 , ) , ( . .
2
5
2
3
= → = L I I g e
f i
( )
f i f i
I I L I I e i + ≤ ≤ − . .
51
γ γ decay decay
• If there is NO change in parity
between the nuclear states then the
parity
• If there is a change in parity between
the nuclear states then the radiation
field must have ODD parity
( )
4 , 3 , 2 , 1
4 , 3 , 2 , 1 , ) , (
2
5
2
3
E M E M
L I I
f i

= → =
+ +
EVEN PARITY
52
γ γ decay decay
• You cannot have an L = 0 multipole
(single photon)
• The multipolarity correlates with the
angular dependence of the emitted