ANSTO Scientists Analyze the Composition of Gases Trapped Inside Deep Antarctic Ice: Physics Assignment, BHS, Australia

Subject Physics


1. ANSTO scientists analyze the composition of gases trapped inside deep Antarctic ice to determine historical changes in our climate and atmosphere. Carbon-14, beryllium-10, and chlorine-36 are used routinely to determine the age of these ice core samples.

Carbon-14 half-life: 5730 years

Beryllium-10 half-life: 1,390,000 years

Chlorine-36 half-life: 301,000 years

Nt = N0eλt

λ = ln(2)/t1/2

where Nt = number of particles at time t,

N0 = number of particles present at t = 0,

λ = decay constant,

t1/2 = time for half the radioactive amount to decay.

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Use the data and equations above to:

  • Calculate the decay constant for each isotope
  • Plot the decay curve for ONE isotope
  • Estimate the proportion of each isotope remaining in a sample of Antarctic ice 45,000 years old

2. Explain the requirements needed to achieve a sustained and controlled nuclear fission reaction in a fission reactor.

3. Provide a detailed experimental write up of the discovery of two particles predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics.

4. Chadwick discovered the neutron in 1932 when he bombarded beryllium with alpha particles from polonium.

  • Explain using a diagram of how neutrons are generated in a controlled fission reaction inside a nuclear reactor.
  • Explain how the properties of neutrons allow them to be used as a probe to investigate the matter.
  • X-rays and neutrons are both utilized for diffraction experiments to investigate materials. Use our current understanding of atomic theory to explain why x-rays and neutrons produce different but complementary diffraction data about a material.
  • Neutrons are a particularly penetrative form of radiation. Give examples of safety measures used by nuclear researchers working with neutrons.

5. From 1908 to 1913, Geiger and Marsden’s gold foil experiments led to the discovery of positively charged particles in the nucleus of the atom, later termed “protons” by Rutherford.

  • Explain, using labeled diagrams, how a cyclotron is used to accelerate protons at a target. Include the origin of the protons in your answer.
  • Using balanced decay equations, give an example of a proton-rich, cyclotron-produced medical radioisotope and describe its use in patients.
  • The first proton therapy unit in Australia is due to open in Adelaide in 2020. Describe how this process is currently used in other countries to treat cancerous tumors.

6. A particularly favorable fusion reaction for use in fusion reactors involves the fusion of deuterium (2H or D) and tritium (3H or T), producing a Helium nucleus (4He) and a neutron (n).

  • Write a nuclear equation for this reaction.
  • Explain one way in which this reaction could be carried out in a reactor.
  • Discuss the potential use of this reactor for the production of electricity.

7. Cyclotrons are used at ANSTO to produce nuclear medicines for diagnostic scans.

  • Construct a table to compare a linear particle accelerator and a cyclotron, showing their similarities and differences
  • Create an annotated diagram of a cyclotron to explain its operation and how it can be used in the production of fluorine-18
  • Explain why very high energy cyclotrons are not possible                                                 

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8. ANSTO stores intermediate-level waste from reprocessed spent reactor fuel and by-products of radiopharmaceutical production. This waste is often long-lived and requires secure and shielded storage. Create a table to compare and contrast the two main methods of storing intermediate level waste: immobilization in glass (vitrification) and Synroc.

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