Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Beta Decay<=>Positron emission

  1. May 30, 2013 #1
    I'm in high school chem. and we are learning about nuclear chemistry (it's more of a physics topic
    in my opinion), but we learned that in beta decay a neutron loses mass (e- & anti-neutrino) and becomes a proton. We also learned that in positron emission a proton loses mass (positron & neutrino) and becomes a neutron. So, my question is...How is it that a neutron and proton can both become each other by losing mass?!? It's not balanced.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2013 #2
    It is balanced by binding energy. Proton can only become a neutron by losing mass if the resulting neutron is bound in a nucleus, so much stronger than proton was that due to binding energy the mass of the neutron is smaller than the mass of proton was. Proton cannot become neutron if the neutron is too weakly bound, or if the original proton is too strongly bound.
  4. May 31, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The main point is that these processes depend on the composition of the nucleus. Free protons do not decay, free neutrons do.
  5. Jun 19, 2013 #4
    let me see if i understand this correctly. energy is making up for the lost mass due to E=MC^2, right? so a free proton can not decay because theres no binding energy to make up for the loss in mass, however in a nucleus with too much energy it can become more stable by releasing the energy in the form of a positron, and the same thing occurs with a neutron releasing an electron. so what i still don't understand is how can a lone neutron decay if theres no binding energy to make it unstable? also how are the quarks effected in these decay modes, wont one of the ups or downs, depending on the decay, have to switch?
  6. Jun 19, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    A proton weights 938.3 MeV, while a neutron weighs 939.5 MeV. Therefore a free neutron can decay into a proton, with about 1 MeV energy to spare, which goes into the kinetic energy of its decay products. But a proton can't decay into a neutron because it doesn't have enough energy unless it can grab 1 MeV from somewhere. So a proton contained in a nucleus can decay into a neutron if the difference in binding energy between the original nucleus and the nucleus that's left is at least 1 MeV.
  7. Jun 20, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Sure, that is the decay process on a quark level. up->down+positron+neutrino or down->up+electron+antineutrino
  8. Jun 29, 2013 #7
    It's really particle physics. It has nothing to stabilty, it occurs due to a probabilistic interaction that can occur in the neutron. A down quark emits a negatively charged W boson (purely by chance) that turns it into an up quark and the neutron into a proton. This emission also accounts for the mass loss
  9. Jul 14, 2013 #8
    Does the down quark actually emit a W boson or does the boson appear from interactions with fields.
  10. Jul 14, 2013 #9


    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Physics is not about "actually". The emission of a virtual W boson is a good model, but you can view it as an interaction with the field as well.
  11. Jul 15, 2013 #10
    Thanks. I get hung up on theory laden terms I guess. The only way I can make sense of bosons and fermions is to see them as field interactions.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Beta Decay<=>Positron emission
  1. Beta decay (Replies: 4)

  2. Positron emission (Replies: 8)

  3. Beta+ Decay (Replies: 15)