Friday, March 27, 2009

Electricity>Nuclear Energy>Your friend Uranium-235

  
What have we learned so far about electricity?

•Electricity is the flow of subatomic particles called electrons
•Electrons are located in things called atoms
•Electrons will flow in a conductor when it is placed in a magnetic field
•An electric generator is essentially many conductors rotating in a magnetic field
•Electricity is free but the means to turn the generator is not
•The generator can be turned by wind, water, or (most commonly) steam
•Steam is produced by boiling water
•Heat to boil water comes most commonly by burning coal
•Another source of heat to boil water is the heat given off by a nuclear reaction

So, onward and upward, mes petits protégés.

Most of you have seemed very bored in class so far, because the information has been so elemental. Except for little Canucklehead, who often looked challenged, even during the balloon rubbing. Today, in an effort to keep you exceptional children awake, we will discuss what a nuclear reaction is, what fun things you can do with it once you have it going, and, in another post, a couple of things you probably want to watch out for. Ready?

First of all, you may recall that the nucleus of an atom consists of little things called protons and neutrons, and that electrons revolve around the nucleus. You may also remember that the number of protons in the atom tells you what "element" the material is. The names of some elements are iron, oxygen, gold, lead, helium and many others. One other example is an element called Uranium.

Uranium occurs naturally on Earth. Some elements, such as plutonium, do not. You don't have to remember plutonium though. Uranium has an atomic number of 92. Does anyone remember what that means? Ettarose? Yes, it means uranium has 92 protons in its nucleus. Good girl! Of course it also has... what?... yes, neutrons and electrons. Good, Angelika!

Uranium is a metal, considerably denser than lead, and is a silvery-gray color when refined. Ummm... like lead. Some elements have variations in their atomic structure, and these variations are called "isotopes."

Canucklehead, you have not been paying attention. Tell the class what an isotope is, please. What? A baseball player on the triple-A team owned by the Dodgers located in Albuquerque? And they serve beer there? Correct, but we are not talking about baseball right now. Pay attention, please.

You may recall that besides protons, an atom's nucleus also contains small particles called neutrons. What's that Janet? Yes, we made fun of neutrons because they had no electrical charge. Some atoms of the same element have different numbers of neutrons. Each variation in the number of neutrons is called an isotope of that element. For example, uranium-235 is one variation, or isotope, of the element uranium. Uranium-238 is another possible isotope of the same element.

An interesting thing about uranium-235 is that if you bombard its nucleus with an outside source of slow neutrons, you can make it's nucleus split apart (fission). What, Descartes? Why, yes! - just like slamming a cue ball into a group of other pool balls. Great analogy! Pow, pow, pow! ::Ralphie's old man is nervous now: "Carefull now... they go all over!"::
Yes, Lidian, very cool indeed. But that's not the REALLY cool part. No. Can you tell us what the REALLY cool part is, little A.? Little A.? Little A., don't pretend you are invisible. Everyone can see you sitting there. Anyone? Anyone? Alison?

Why, YES, little Alison! The really cool part is that when you break apart the nucleus, the pieces fly off and break apart the nucleus-us-us... nuclei... of other atoms. So cool, indeed! Thank you Alison! You have been reading your little Nuclear Reaction book, I see!

So... once you get the fission (splitting) nuclear reaction started, it just keeps going on its own! And going, and going, and going, and going... wake up Canuck.

But, another very important thing is, when the nuclei break apart, HEAT is also given off. True! Slam! Pop! Split! Burrrrrrnnn! Right, Sheila! Nine-ball in the side pocket! Go for it class! ::turns up hip hop music really loud as tykes get on their feet and duck their heads up and down to the beat:: Yes! do the "neutron slam", Debbie! Slam! Bam! Pop! SPLIT! -- Burrrrrnnnn!

Okay, sit down now, please. ::Turns off the music::

Who would like to see a picture of a nuclear reactor at work? ::Everyone raises their hands::

Look up at the projection on the wall, children. A beautiful unearthly blue. An online reactor at a nuclear power station. ::Class goes silent::

::Quietly:: "The primal power of the universe. Yes, oddly frightening..."


(To be continued in an upcoming post)

15 comments:

ettarose said...

Max, what is going on? You are scaring me. Are you going to try and tell me that Nuclear power plants are our future? Won't we all be like Three Mile Island? Chernobyl? Do you think we are smarter than they were? Can they be bought?

Sheila said...

Very good, very interesting, but I just don't want to be an unearthly blue myself. Earthly seems to sound better.

Lidian said...

If only there were really hip hop interludes in science class! I have it on good authority that they are not, as a rule.

My own science classes in elementary school were taught by a somnolent fellow who had a closetful of enormous batteries. He took them out sometimes and we looked at them. Just - looked. I think.

If you had been teaching, I'd remember more, I am sure.

Janet said...

Oddly frightening indeed.
If my science teacher had thought of the pool analogy I might have remembered a lot more.

I'm afraid of Lidian's science teacher.

Sage said...

I love this, just so good and so funny... ever thought of being a teacher for real?

Relax Max said...

@Ettarose - Hello SuzyQ. Good to hear from you again. So many questions, you make my head swim.

1. I don't know what's going on.
2. You scare me too.
3. No. I don't know what our future holds. I hope not coal though.
4. I hope not. 3 mile island is in Pennsylvania.
5. Cher's noble? Are you sure?
6. No. 3 mile island is us. How can we be smarter than us? Yes, I think we are smarter than the Russians. But just as lazy. Sigh.
7. Only god knows what you are talking about now. I can be bought, if that helps. :)

Just wait until all the electricity posts are done. You think you are scared now? She-it.

Relax Max said...

@Shelia - I agree. An unearthly blue would make you an American mailbox and all the mail would be lost. Red suits you. :)

@Lidian - You didn't have dance breaks in science class? No wonder you fled to the Great White North. :)

Trying to block out the mental image of your teacher's giant batteries. And if you think I am going to look up the word somnolent, pfft. I will simply assign my own meaning. I say... greasy. No, sticky. Yeah, sticky.

If I had been your teacher, the lesson would have been envivified, but you would not necessarily be more knowledgeable afterwards. :)

Relax Max said...

@Janet - And if I had been your science teacher, we would have PLAYED pool a lot more. :)

Please don't be afraid of Lidian's science teacher. Lidian just tries to be part of the group and has a tendency to make things up.

My theory is she never even had a science teacher because she went to a one-room log cabin school in Bed-Stuy and they had to choose between science and clog dancing. As I say, this is just my empathic impression which comes from reaching out and touching the words she writes.

I may be wrong, of course, but I also sense she was caught dealing hard drugs in the fifth grade and lammed out to Canada before her court date. This is just an impression I receive when I read her comments. At any rate, I would ask that you all just smile and nod when she goes off about sleepy-looking teachers and big batteries. Just sayin'.

Relax Max said...

@Sage - Good? Funny? Thank you. Now if I could only be accurate as well. :)

Have I ever thought of being a teacher? Twice, as a matter of fact. For a few seconds each time. But I was pretty drunk when it seemed like a good idea, and the stupor passed. I soon realized that I would have to have a source of actual money in order to make my way in this world, and that, of course, precluded teaching for a living.

And so I make my life's work explaining (clarifying) things instead. (Writing is not quite the same as teaching, since it omits the sticky-nosed children part.) I am an information architect by trade, to partially pacify my unquiet mind, and because that is my "gift" as mentioned in another recent post. I buy and sell things on the side for the steady income part. This latter used to mean I traded the stock market, but Bush and Obama sort of screwed that life up for me. Now I have to actually work at my graft. I mean craft. Ack!

IA is an actual job title, btw.

I am so happy when you stop by to comment! Thank you. :)

Canucklehead said...

UNRELATED TO POST: I won't make you of course. I believe you have Skype and can on accasion say moderately witty things - two big pluses in my book right now. Its going to take me a few weeks to figure out what I'm doing - just think about it for now. If you do have Skype - look me up, we can discuss.

Sue said...

Would you please delve into the isotopes thing a little deeper, I'm just not getting it.

A. said...

Please ignore this, I'm just testing something. Fusion or something. Don't let it worry you.

Debbie said...

sorry I have been gone, but this post inspired me to go see the Blue Man Group again.

Janet said...

Re: commentary on Lidian's lurid past - hahahahahahahahahahaha! No offense Lidian, but I laughed all the way through that.

Stephanie said...

Technically, fusion is the primal power of the universe, which has completely different power potential. Unfortunately, our attempts to harness it to date have been less than successful. However, it has a great deal of potential if it can be pulled off (and considerably less dangerous waste).

Interesting discussion. Chernobyl was a horrific disaster and we've had several significant radiation releases as big or bigger than 3 mile island worldwide (WIkipedia has a fine article and links to more info on that for the interested). There's also a website that identifies all the world's nuclear reactors and their methodology.

In Europe, it is believed they have a considerably safer nuclear (fission) reactor, water cooled. However, to the best of my knowledge, we don't have any of this second or third generation nuclear plant here, possibly because we haven't built a new on in decades.

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