Neutron - Discovery

Discovery

In 1920, Ernest Rutherford conceived 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 of an electron orbiting a proton.

In 1930 Viktor Ambartsumian and Dmitri Ivanenko 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 and Herbert Becker in Germany found that if the very energetic alpha particles emitted from polonium fell on certain light elements, specifically beryllium, boron, or lithium, 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 and Frédéric Joliot in Paris. They showed that if this unknown radiation fell on paraffin, or any other hydrogen-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 performed a series of experiments at the University of Cambridge, 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, and he performed a series of experiments verifying his suggestion. These uncharged particles were called neutrons, apparently from the Latin root for neutral and the Greek ending -on (by imitation of electron and proton).

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