The definition of nuclear chemistry is not easy. Each practitioner will define the field differently, and the definitions change with time. The connection of the field with the original missions of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission is obvious: understanding the flow of energy during transformation and reactions of nuclei in nuclear reactions and identification of the pathways and controlling factors of nuclear reactions form the central concern of nuclear science. However, a reasonable question is: "How does nuclear chemistry differ from nuclear physics?" In the first few decades of the fields, the answer was clearly defined. Nuclear physicists used physical methods to probe nuclear reactions: They measured things. They measured absorption and emission spectra in regions of the electromagnetic spectrum from the visible to the gamma-ray. They measured nuclear magnetic moments, nuclear masses, etc. Nuclear chemists, on the other hand, were chemists. They exploited the chemical properties of compounds into which different elements and isotopes were bound to separate radioisotopes in order to identify products and product yields of nuclear reactions. They also used the sensitive counting methods developed for nuclear physics to follow chemical reactions. The latter gave rise to radiochemistry and hot-atom chemistry.
Last Modified: June 28, 2012