Physics Question #1428

Thomas, a 16 year old male from Middlesbrough, Australia asks on May 8, 2003,

How many times can you split up an atom?

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The answer

Jeremy Whitlock answered on May 8, 2003

With enough energy and will power we can split an atom into its contituent nucleons (protons and neutrons), by simply pounding away at it, and its resulting fragements, until all that remains are these constituent particles. So the answer to your question is, theoretically speaking, "the number of nucleons". [So for uranium that would be about 238 times. --Editor]

If, however, you are thinking about the conventional use of the phrase "splitting the atom", which refers to nuclear fission of specific atoms (usually uranium), then the answer is, practically speaking, "one"; that is, the left over pieces of a uranium atom that has fissioned are not fissioned (split) any further (although they do radioactively decay into other atoms).

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