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Nitrogen transmutation to carbon-14 (radiocarbon) via gamma

  1. Feb 28, 2016 #1

    I am trying to fully grasp the transmutation of nitrogen into radiocarbon (radiocarbon or carbon-14) via gamma collision high in the atmosphere But, I don't because I cannot whether something also happens to the electron. The canonical description is thus. High energy gamma particles appellate chemicals in the atmosphere, stripping neutrons from their atoms, causing them to become like bullets. When a neutron hits a nitrogen atom, nitrogen spontaneously transmutes to unstable radiocarbon, emitting a proton.

    10n + 147N --> 146C + 11p,

    where 'n' is neutron and 'p' is proton. Fine. The numbers nicely add, all is conserved. But, whereas nitrogen has 7 electrons, radiocarbon has 6. Does it still have that extra electron? Does it now have a -1 overall charge? Is radiocarbon an anion now?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2016 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    It is, but it will quickly lose this electron. Chances are good the initial nitrogen was part of a nitrogen molecule, which breaks up quickly as CN, so the atom will have new chemical reactions anyway.

    In general, nuclear processes and atomic processes are independent. The timescale for nuclear processes is very short, and later the atom gets rid of additional electrons or captures additional electrons to become neutral again.
  4. Feb 28, 2016 #3
    Okay, thank you.
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