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College Physics

Introduction to Applications of Nuclear Physics

College PhysicsIntroduction to Applications of Nuclear Physics

The image shows a woman preparing for scanning of a child mummy with a cylindrical instrument.
Figure 32.1 Tori Randall, Ph.D., curator for the Department of Physical Anthropology at the San Diego Museum of Man, prepares a 550-year-old Peruvian child mummy for a CT scan at Naval Medical Center San Diego. (credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Samantha A. Lewis)

Chapter Outline

32.1 Medical Imaging and Diagnostics
  • Explain the working principle behind an anger camera.
  • Describe the SPECT and PET imaging techniques.
32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
  • Define various units of radiation.
  • Describe RBE.
32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
  • Explain the concept of radiotherapy and list typical doses for cancer therapy.
32.4 Food Irradiation
  • Define food irradiation low dose, and free radicals.
32.5 Fusion
  • Define nuclear fusion.
  • Discuss processes to achieve practical fusion energy generation.
32.6 Fission
  • Define nuclear fission.
  • Discuss how fission fuel reacts and describe what it produces.
  • Describe controlled and uncontrolled chain reactions.
32.7 Nuclear Weapons
  • Discuss different types of fission and thermonuclear bombs.
  • Explain the ill effects of nuclear explosion.

Applications of nuclear physics have become an integral part of modern life. From the bone scan that detects a cancer to the radioiodine treatment that cures another, nuclear radiation has diagnostic and therapeutic effects on medicine. From the fission power reactor to the hope of controlled fusion, nuclear energy is now commonplace and is a part of our plans for the future. Yet, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons haunts us, as does the possibility of nuclear reactor accidents. Certainly, several applications of nuclear physics escape our view, as seen in Figure 32.2. Not only has nuclear physics revealed secrets of nature, it has an inevitable impact based on its applications, as they are intertwined with human values. Because of its potential for alleviation of suffering, and its power as an ultimate destructor of life, nuclear physics is often viewed with ambivalence. But it provides perhaps the best example that applications can be good or evil, while knowledge itself is neither.

Vehicles being inspected by another vehicle with a boom-type x-ray scanner attached to it.
Figure 32.2 Customs officers inspect vehicles using neutron irradiation. Cars and trucks pass through portable x-ray machines that reveal their contents. (credit: Gerald L. Nino, CBP, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security)
Gamma-ray scanned image of two stowaways hiding inside a big truck.
Figure 32.3 This image shows two stowaways caught illegally entering the United States from Canada. (credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
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