The role of the neutron is fundamental in the Universe. Its discovery was the foundation of nuclear physics developments in the first half-century.
These are six facts you may not know about neutrons.
1. James Chadwick discovered neutrons in 1932
It was discovered by him using this strange device he created from parts he found in the laboratory.
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2. James Chadwick’s neutron room
Melvyn Bragg hears from Prof Val Gibson about the device that was used to discover the neutron.
Later, Chadwick was interviewed by the New York Times and stated that “I fear neutrons won’t be of any benefit to anyone.”
3. Neutrons are extremely small.
If we take a deep breath, we inhale 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of oxygen. The nucleus at the center of one of these atoms would be as big as a pea if it were to expand to the size of Wembley Stadium. The nucleus contains neutrons, which are very small particles.
4. Stars made from neutrons exist.
They are dense beyond belief. One teaspoon of neutron stars would weigh the same as one of Earth’s mountaineers.
5. Protons are slightly lighter than neutrons.
If they aren’t ‘glued’ to protons in the nucleus, neutrons quickly decay and become slightly smaller protons (with a by-product of electrons or antineutrinos).
If protons were heavier than neutrons, they’d decay to neutrons. There would also be no positive charge within the nucleus and no atoms. Without atoms, there would be no stars, planets, or people in the Universe.
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6. Three quarks make up the Neutrons.
Murray Gell-Mann gave him the name “quark” when he was researching elementary particles in the 1960s. He took the name from a passage of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: Three quarks for Muster Mark!