Problem-Solving Strategies

Problem-Solving Strategies For Reaction And Binding Energies and Activity Calculations in Nuclear Physics

  1. Identify exactly what needs to be determined in the problem (identify the unknowns). This will allow you to decide whether the energy of a decay or nuclear reaction is involved, for example, or whether the problem is primarily concerned with activity (rate of decay).
  2. Make a list of what is given or can be inferred from the problem as stated (identify the knowns).
  3. For reaction and binding-energy problems, we use atomic rather than nuclear masses. Since the masses of neutral atoms are used, you must count the number of electrons involved. If these do not balance (such as in \({\beta }^{+}\) decay), then an energy adjustment of 0.511 MeV per electron must be made. Also note that atomic masses may not be given in a problem; they can be found in tables.
  4. For problems involving activity, the relationship of activity to half-life, and the number of nuclei given in the equation \(R=\cfrac{\text{0.693}N}{{t}_{1/2}}\) can be very useful. Owing to the fact that number of nuclei is involved, you will also need to be familiar with moles and Avogadro’s number.
  5. Perform the desired calculation; keep careful track of plus and minus signs as well as powers of 10.
  6. Check the answer to see if it is reasonable: Does it make sense? Compare your results with worked examples and other information in the text. (Heeding the advice in Step 5 will also help you to be certain of your result.) You must understand the problem conceptually to be able to determine whether the numerical result is reasonable.

PhET Explorations: Nuclear Fission

Start a chain reaction, or introduce non-radioactive isotopes to prevent one. Control energy production in a nuclear reactor!

[Attributions and Licenses]


This is a lesson from the tutorial, Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics and you are encouraged to log in or register, so that you can track your progress.

Log In

Share Thoughts