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Title: Nuclide  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Stable nuclide, Nuclear physics, Nuclear binding energy, Neutron, Lithium
Collection: Isotopes, Nuclear Physics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A nuclide (from nucleus) is an atomic species characterized by the specific constitution of its nucleus, i.e., by its number of protons Z, its number of neutrons N, and its nuclear energy state.[1]

The word nuclide was proposed[2] by Truman P. Kohman[3] in 1947. Kohman originally suggested nuclide as referring to a "species of nucleus" defined by containing a certain number of neutrons and protons. The word thus was originally intended to focus on the nucleus.


  • Nuclides and isotopes 1
  • Origins of naturally occurring nuclides 2
  • Artificially produced nuclides 3
  • Summary table for numbers of each class of nuclides 4
  • Nuclear properties and stability 5
    • Even and odd nucleon numbers 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Nuclides and isotopes

Designation Characteristics Example Remarks
Isotopes equal proton number 12
, 13
Isotones equal neutron number 13
, 14
Isobars equal mass number 17
, 17
, 17
see beta decay
Mirror nuclei neutron and proton
number exchanged
, 3
Nuclear isomers different energy states 99
, 99m
long-lived or stable

A set of nuclides with equal proton number (atomic number), i.e., of the same chemical element but different neutron numbers, are called isotopes of the element. Particular nuclides are still often loosely called "isotopes", but the term "nuclide" is the correct one in general (i.e., when Z is not fixed). In similar manner, a set of nuclides with equal mass number A, but different atomic number, are called isobars (isobar = equal in weight), and isotones are nuclides of equal neutron number but different proton numbers. The name isotone has been derived from the name isotope to emphasize that in the first group of nuclides it is the number of neutrons (n) that is constant, whereas in the second the number of protons (p).[4]

See Isotope#Notation for an explanation of the notation used for different nuclide or isotope types.

Nuclear isomers are members of a set of nuclides with equal proton number and equal mass number (thus making them by definition the same isotope), but different states of excitation. An example is the two states of the single isotope 99
shown among the decay schemes. Each of these two states (technetium-99m and technetium-99) qualifies as a different nuclide, illustrating one way that nuclides may differ from isotopes (an isotope may consist of several different nuclides of different excitation states).

The most long-lived non-ground state nuclear isomer is the nuclide tantalum-180m(180m
), which has a half-life in excess of 1,000 trillion years. This nuclide occurs primordially, and has never been observed to decay to the ground state. (In contrast, the ground state nuclide tantalum-180 does not occur primordially, since it decays with a half life of only 8 hours to 180Hf (86%) or 180W (14%)).

There are about 254 nuclides in nature that have never been observed to decay. They occur among the 80 different elements that have one or more stable isotopes. See stable isotope and primordial nuclide. Unstable nuclides are radioactive and are called radionuclides. Their decay products ('daughter' products) are called radiogenic nuclides. About 254 stable and about 85 unstable (radioactive) nuclides exist naturally on Earth, for a total of about 339 naturally occurring nuclides on Earth.[5]

Origins of naturally occurring nuclides

Natural radionuclides may be conveniently subdivided into three types. First, those whose half-lives t1/2 are at least 2% as long as the age of the Earth (for practical purposes, these are difficult to detect with half-lives less than 10% of the age of the Earth) (4.6×109 years). These are remnants of nucleosynthesis that occurred in stars before the formation of the solar system. For example, the isotope 238U (t1/2 = 4.5×109 years) of uranium is still fairly abundant in nature, but the shorter-lived isotope 235U (t1/2 = 0.7×109 years) is 138 times rarer. About 34 of these nuclides have been discovered (see list of nuclides and primordial nuclide for details).

The second group of radionuclides that exist naturally consists of radiogenic nuclides such as 226Ra (t1/2 = 1602 years), an isotope of radium, which are formed by radioactive decay. They occur in the decay chains of primordial isotopes of uranium or thorium. Some of these nuclides are very short-lived, such as isotopes of francium. There exist about 51 of these daughter nuclides that have half-lives too short to be primordial, and which exist in nature solely due to decay from longer lived radioactive primordial nuclides.

The third group consists of nuclides that are continuously being made in another fashion that is not simple spontaneous radioactive decay (i.e., only one atom involved with no incoming particle) but instead involves a natural nuclear reaction. These occur when atoms react with natural neutrons (from cosmic rays, spontaneous fission, or other sources), or are bombarded directly with cosmic rays. The latter, if non-primordial, are called cosmogenic nuclides. Other types of natural nuclear reactions produce nuclides that are said to be nucleogenic nuclides.

An example of nuclides made by nuclear reactions, are cosmogenic 14C (radiocarbon) that is made by cosmic ray bombardment of other elements, and nucleogenic 239Pu which is still being created by neutron bombardment of natural 238U as a result of natural fission in uranium ores. Cosmogenic nuclides may be either stable or radioactive. If they are stable, their existence must be deduced against a background of stable nuclides, since every known stable nuclide is present on Earth primordially

Artificially produced nuclides

Beyond the 339 naturally occurring nuclides, more than 3000 radionuclides of varying half-lives have been artificially produced and characterized.

The known nuclides are shown in the chart of nuclides. A list of primordial nuclides is given sorted by element, at list of elements by stability of isotopes. A list of nuclides is also available, sorted by half-life, for the 905 nuclides with half-lives longer than one hour.

Summary table for numbers of each class of nuclides

This is a summary table [6] for the 905 nuclides with half-lives longer than one hour, given in list of nuclides. Note that numbers are not exact, and may change slightly in the future, if some "stable" nuclides are observed to be radioactive with very long half-lives.

Stability class Number of nuclides Running total Notes on running total
Theoretically stable to all but proton decay 90 90 Includes first 40 elements. Proton decay yet to be observed.
Energetically unstable to one or more known decay modes, but no decay yet seen. Spontaneous fission possible for "stable" nuclides ≥ niobium-93; other mechanisms possible for heavier nuclides. All considered "stable" until decay detected. 164 254 Total of classically stable nuclides.
Radioactive primordial nuclides. 34 288 Total primordial elements include bismuth, uranium, thorium, plutonium, plus all stable nuclides.
Radioactive non-primordial, but naturally occurring on Earth. ~ 51 ~ 340 Carbon-14 (and other cosmogenic isotopes generated by cosmic rays); daughters of radioactive primordials, such as francium, etc., and nucleogenic nuclides from natural nuclear reactions that are other than those from cosmic rays (such as neutron absorption from spontaneous nuclear fission or neutron emission).
Radioactive synthetic (half-life > 1 hour). Includes most useful radiotracers. 556 905
Radioactive synthetic (half-life < 1 hour). >2400 >3300 Includes all well-characterized synthetic nuclides.

Nuclear properties and stability

Stability of nuclides by (Z, N), an example of a table of nuclides:
Black – stable (all are primordial)
Red – primordial radioactive
Other – radioactive, with decreasing stability from orange to white

Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons bound together by the residual strong force. Because protons are positively charged, they repel each other. Neutrons, which are electrically neutral, stabilize the nucleus in two ways. Their copresence pushes protons slightly apart, reducing the electrostatic repulsion between the protons, and they exert the attractive nuclear force on each other and on protons. For this reason, one or more neutrons are necessary for two or more protons to be bound into a nucleus. As the number of protons increases, so does the ratio of neutrons to protons necessary to ensure a stable nucleus (see graph at right). For example, although the neutron–proton ratio of 3
is 1:2, the neutron–proton ratio of 238
is greater than 3:2. A number of lighter elements have stable nuclides with the ratio 1:1 (Z = N). The nuclide 40
(calcium-40) is the observationally the heaviest stable nuclide with the same number of neutrons and protons; (theoretically, the heaviest stable one is sulfur-32). All stable nuclides heavier than calcium-40 contain more neutrons than protons.

Even and odd nucleon numbers

Even/odd Z, N, and A
A  Even    Odd Total
Z,N   EE     OO  EO     OE
Stable  148  5 53  48 254
153      101     
Long-lived  22  4 5 35
26      9     
All primordial  170  9 57  53 289
179      110     

The proton–neutron ratio is not the only factor affecting nuclear stability. It depends also on evenness or oddness of its atomic number Z, neutron number N and, consequently, of their sum, the mass number A. Oddness of both Z and N tends to lower the nuclear binding energy, making odd nuclei, generally, less stable. This remarkable difference of nuclear binding energy between neighbouring nuclei, especially of odd-A isobars, has important consequences: unstable isotopes with a nonoptimal number of neutrons or protons decay by beta decay (including positron decay), electron capture or other exotic means, such as spontaneous fission and cluster decay.

The majority of stable nuclides are even-proton–even-neutron, where all numbers Z, N, and A are even. The odd-A stable nuclides are divided (roughly evenly) into odd-proton–even-neutron, and even-proton–odd-neutron nuclides. Odd-proton–odd-neutron nuclides (and nuclei) are the least common.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ original proposal for the word nuclide
  3. ^ Biographical material about Dr. Kohman
  4. ^ E.R. Cohen, P. Giacomo (1987). "Symbols, units, nomenclature and fundamental constants in physics".  
  5. ^ [2] (This source gives 339 naturally occurring nuclides, but names 269 of them as stable, rather than 254 listed in stable nuclide See also list of nuclides for nearly stable nuclides. Disagreements in these numbers are in part due to certain very long-lived radioisotopes such as bismuth-209 that, when found, move known primordial nuclides from the category of stable nuclide to radioactive primordial nuclide categories, but do not change the total sum of naturally occurring nuclides. An expanded list of 339 nuclides found naturally on Earth would includes nuclides like radium and carbon-14 which are found on Earth as products of radioactive decay chains and natural process like cosmic radiation, but which are not primordial radionuclides. The latter are more easily counted, and number about 34 over the number of stable primordial nuclides, for a total of 288 primordially occurring nuclides.
  6. ^ Table data is derived by counting members of the list; see WorldHeritage:CALC. References for the list data itself are given below in the reference section in list of nuclides

External links

  • Periodic Table at DMOZ
  • The Live Chart of Nuclides at The International Atomic Energy Agency
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