Atoms can gain or lose energy when an electron moves from a higher to a lower orbit around the nucleus. However, splitting the nucleus of an atom releases considerably more energy than that of an electron returning to a lower orbit from a higher one. Dividing an atom is called nuclear fission, and repeated division of atoms is called a chain reaction. This is not a process that can be done at home. You can only perform nuclear fission in a properly equipped nuclear plant or laboratory.
Method 1 of 3: Bombard Radioactive Isotopes
Step 1. Choose the correct isotope
Some elements or isotopes of elements undergo radioactive decay. However, not all isotopes are created equal when it comes to dividing them easily. The most common isotope of uranium has an atomic weight of 238, comprising 92 protons and 146 neutrons, but these nuclei usually absorb neutrons without dividing into smaller nuclei of other elements. An isotope of uranium with three fewer neutrons, 235U, can be separated much more easily than you can 238OR; this isotope is called fissile.
- When uranium splits (fission), it releases three neutrons that collide with other uranium atoms, creating a chain reaction.
- Some isotopes can split very easily, so fast that a continuous fission reaction cannot be sustained. This is called spontaneous fission, the isotope of plutonium 240Pu is an isotope, unlike isotope 239Pu with its slowest fission rate.
Step 2. Get enough of the isotope to ensure fission continues after the first atom splits
This requires having a certain minimum amount of the fissile isotope to make the fission reaction sustainable, which is called critical mass. Achieving critical mass requires enough of the parent material for the isotope to increase the chances of fission occurring.
Step 3. Shoot an atomic nucleus of the same isotope against another
Since subatomic particles are difficult to obtain, it is often necessary to expel them from the atoms of which they are a part. One method of doing this is to shoot atoms of a given isotope against other atoms of that same isotope.
- This atom was used to create the 235An atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. A gun-like weapon with a uranium core fired 235Or atoms to another piece of the 235U support material fast enough for the naturally released neutrons to collide with the nuclei of other 235Or atoms and they break. The neutrons released when atoms split will in turn hit and split other atoms.
Step 4. Bombard the fissile isotope nuclei with subatomic particles
A single subatomic particle can hit an atom of 235U, by dividing it into two separate atoms from other elements and releasing three neutrons. These particles can come from a moderate source (for example, a neutron gun) or they can be generated when the nuclei collide. Three types of subatomic particles are commonly used.
- Protons: These subatomic particles have mass and a positive charge. The number of protons in an atom determines which element the atom is made of.
- Neutrons: These subatomic particles have mass like protons, but no charge.
- Alpha Particles: These particles are the nuclei of helium atoms, devoid of orbiting electrons.
Method 2 of 3: Compress Radioactive Materials
Step 1. Obtain a critical mass of a radioactive isotope
You will need enough raw material to ensure fission continues. Keep in mind that in a given sample of some element (for example, plutonium), you will have more than one isotope. Make sure you calculate how much of the desired fissile isotope is in the sample.
Step 2. Enrich the isotope
Sometimes it is necessary to increase the relative amount of the fissile isotope in a sample to ensure that a sustainable fission reaction occurs. This is called enrichment. There are several ways to enrich radioactive materials. Some of these are as follows:
- gas diffusion
- electromagnetic separation
- liquid thermal diffusion
Step 3. Squeeze the atomic sample to bring the fissile atoms closer together
Sometimes atoms break down too quickly on their own to fire at each other. In this case, bringing the atoms closer together increases the chance that the released subatomic particles will hit and split other atoms. This can be done by using explosives to force fissile atoms closer together.239Pu atoms.
- This method was used to create the 239Pu atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Conventional explosives rattled a mass of plutonium; When detonated, they gather the plutonium mass, by bringing the 239Pu atoms enough for the neutrons they released to continually hit and split other plutonium atoms.
Method 3 of 3: Splitting Atoms with a Laser
Step 1. Coat radioactive materials in metal
Place the radioactive material on a gold covering. Use a copper bracket to secure the cover in place. Be aware that both fissile material and metals will become radioactive once fission occurs.
Step 2. Excite the electrons with a laser light
With the development of petawatt lasers (1015 watt), it is now possible to split atoms by using laser light to excite electrons in metals that coat a radioactive substance. Similarly, you could use a 50 terawatt (5 x 1012 watt) to excite the electrons in the metal.
Step 3. Stop the laser
When electrons return to their regular orbits, they release high-energy gamma radiation that penetrates the nuclei of copper and gold. This will release the neutrons from those nuclei. Then these neutrons will collide with the uranium underneath the gold and split the uranium atoms.
Do this only in a suitable facility such as a nuclear power plant or physics laboratory
- This process could cause a massive explosion.
- Radiation will kill you. Wear the proper safety gear. Keep a safe distance from radioactive materials.
- Doing it on your own is illegal.
- As with any equipment, follow required safety procedures and don't do anything that seems risky.