Tuesday, 20 March 2012
In 1932 Chadwick discovered a previously unknown particle in the atomic nucleus. He communicated his findings in detail. This particle became known as the neutron because of its lack of electric charge. Chadwick's discovery was crucial for the fission of uranium 235. Unlike positively charged alpha particles, which are repelled by the electrical forces present in the nuclei of other atoms, neutrons do not need to overcome any Coulomb barrier and can therefore penetrate and split the nuclei of even the heaviest elements. For this discovery he was awarded the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society in 1932 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1935.
Chadwick’s discovery made it possible to create elements heavier than uranium in the laboratory. His discovery particularly inspired Enrico Fermi, Italian physicist and Nobel laureate, to discover nuclear reactions brought by slowed neutrons, and led Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, German radiochemists in Berlin, to the revolutionary discovery of “nuclear fission”.