Nuclear Physics

Nuclear physics investigates the basic physical constituents of atomic nuclei. It attempts to understand the relationships between the particles that make up atoms, as well as their creation and decay. Nuclear physics not only continues to be a critical and vibrant branch of academic physical research, but has directly led to developments in medicine, national security and energy production. Nuclear physics knowledge is critical to applied science, as well, primarily in the field of nuclear engineering.

There is a range of educational and vocational paths that require knowledge of nuclear physics. Bachelor's degrees in nuclear engineering cover the basics of both theory and practice necessary to design technology to safely and efficiently handle nuclear processes. Advanced degrees, such as a Master of Engineering degree, are available for engineers looking to broaden their current knowledge base to include additional, specific technologies. Individuals interested in teaching at the postsecondary level or conducting advanced research in nuclear engineering can pursue a Ph.D.

This Basics course on Nuclear physics will give an introductory but still rigorous description of both experimental and theoretical aspects of the present understanding of nuclei and their interaction.

The first two years of these undergraduate programs are typically spent completing courses that cover the fundamentals of chemistry, physics, engineering sciences and advanced mathematics. The final years of enrollment focus on nuclear engineering, including reactor design, reactor theory, fluid and heat behavior, radiation measurement and reactor engineering. Substantial laboratory coursework is required, and students typically complete senior research or design projects. After completing the general science and mathematics courses students learn nuclear reactor design, engineering and theory.

This course explores elements of nuclear physics for engineering students. It covers basic properties of the nucleus and nuclear radiations; quantum mechanical calculations of deuteron bound-state wave function and energy; scattering cross section; transition probability per unit time and barrier transmission probability. It also covers binding energy and nuclear stability; interactions of charged particles, neutrons, and gamma rays with matter; radioactive decays; and energetics and general cross section behavior in nuclear reactions.

Career options

There are many different occupations that require knowledge about the functions of atomic nuclei. Bachelor's degree holders can seek employment as technicians in research laboratories or as entry-level engineers. Nuclear engineers are integral components of modern industry and national security. They may work in a wide range of vocations, such as designing or operating nuclear power plants, contributing to the safe handling of nuclear waste, developing new applications for radiation in the medical field or managing nuclear energy plants of navy ships. Individuals with master's degrees can pursue applied science positions. Those with a Ph.D. in Physics can work as researchers and postsecondary educators in nuclear physics. Review the articles below for more details about employment opportunities.

  • Nuclear Engineer
  • Radiation Physicist
  • Physics Teacher
  • Nuclear Technician

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