Purpose of Neutrons
Name: Sara H.
Date: Thursday, November 28, 2002
Do the neutrons in an atom's nucleus have any purpose
besides deciding what isotopes the atom has?
Neutrons do not need a purpose. Just like electrons, protons, atoms, and so
on. NEUTRONS EXIST, and they have certain properties. These are experimental
observations, and as such do not need a "purpose". THEY ARE.
Neutrons are important to the nucleus. Most importantly, neutrons hold the
nucleus together. All protons have an electric charge. All have the same
charge. All protons repel each other with the electric force. But when
they are close together, this does not matter much. Protons AND neutrons
have a very short range force called the strong force. When right next to
each other, this strong force is much more powerful than the electric force.
If the protons would sit still in a nucleus, this would be enough. However,
this only happens at VERY cold temperatures, near what is called "absolute
zero": 273 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale. At common
temperatures, protons are jumping all over they place. They need extra
holding force to stay in the nucleus. This is where neutrons come in.
Neutrons, like protons, have this strong force that attracts neighboring
nucleons. Unlike protons, neutrons do not have electric charge. They are
only attracted to each other and to protons. Their strong force helps hold
the nucleus together more tightly than the protons alone can accomplish.
All protons work together to push on each other. As a nucleus gets larger,
it gets more electric force pushing out the protons. A larger nucleus needs
more neutrons. Look at the elements. The lighter elements are about half
proton and half neutron. The heaviest elements have many more neutrons than
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College
Click here to return to the Physics Archives
Update: June 2012