Neutron

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A particle of neutral electric charge and approximately the same mass as the proton. Outside the nucleus of an atom it is unstable and has a half-life of about 15 minutes, decaying by emitting an electron and antineutrino to become a proton. The same decay method (β-decay) occurs in some nuclei. Particles inside the nucleus are typically resonances between neutrons and protons, which transform into one another by the emission and absorption of pions. A neutron contains two down quarks and one up quark.

Discovery

In 1930 W. Bothe and H. Becker in Germany found that if the very energetic natural alpha particles from polonium fell on certain of the 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 Irene Curie and F. 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 an hypothesis. Finally (later in 1932) J. Chadwich in England performed a series of experiments showing that the gamma ray hypothesis was untenable. He suggested that in fact the new radiation consisted of uncharged particles of approximately the mass of the proton, and he performed a series of experiments verifying his suggestion. Such uncharged particles are now called neutrons.

See also particle physics, chemistry, and neutron star.

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