General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Is the same amount of energy that is lost in splitting an atom, required to put one together?

Asked by Ltryptophan (9112 points ) May 24th, 2010

The whole matter is energy thing freaks me out a bit. Since everything is energy, what did it take to get all these atoms manufactured?

Is there an atom factory somewhere? Are stars the atom factories?

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18 Answers

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Atoms condensed from the plasma that followed the Big Bang, and the matter that composed the plasma condensed from the pure energy released from the Big Bang. Stars do produce new atoms, but that is through nuclear fusion which releases energy. As far as I am aware no one can fuse atomic particles into an atom in an endothermic reaction, so for now we cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again. If we were to develop such technology though, it would take far more energy than is released from a fission reaction thanks to the laws of thermodynamics. We would also need to put it together relatively slowly, which means a lot of energy would be spent opposing the Strong Nuclear Force.

ragingloli's avatar

The most promising theory right now is the Higgs mechanism, which posits that there exists a universal Higgs field made of Higgs bosons, with which certain particles interact and as a result slow down enough to form matter. The Higgs boson is one of the things what they will be looking for in the Large Hadron Collider. Atoms’ nuclei itself are held together by the nuclear strong force, but the range of it is extremely short and until you can get protons close together enough for the nuclear strong force to take effect and form the nucleus they will repel each other because of their charge (electromagnetism) which means you will have to expend a large amount of energy to overcome the electromagnetism which counters your efforts. Which is why fusion so far can only be achieved in ultra hot environments. Heat is basically particles moving really fast. If they move fast enough, they can collide with each other with sufficient force to fuse into new nuclei.
But once you achieve nuclear fusion, yes, there is absolutely the possibility to get more energy out of the reaction than you put in. Stars do it. We did it, too, with Hydrogen Bombs. The only thing that remains is achieving this in our fusion reactors.

ragingloli's avatar

Fission only requires the bombardment of sufficient amounts of fissable material with Neutrons to start a chain reaction, so the input of energy is rather low compared to fusion, where we have to provide an ultra hot environment. So you need more energy to fuse atoms than you need to split them. But the energy release of fusion is a lot bigger than fission.

rebbel's avatar

It doesn’t answer your specific question i am afraid, but if these things interest you and/or you are completely lost in everything concerning science, find a copy of Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything.
….describing general sciences such as chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics. In it, he explores time from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics, via evolution and geology. Wikipedia

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, stars are atom factories. The process is called stellar nucleosynthesis. When small atoms are fused into bigger ones energy gets released and a bit of mass is lost. For example when fusing hydrogen atoms into helium. Splitting helium into hydrogen would require the same amount of energy. Same for carbon, oxygen and so forth.

Then when stars are trying to fuse iron into heavier atoms the opposite happens. No energy gets released. Instead energy is required to create elements such as gold or uranium. Splitting these atoms will release energy. This is how nuclear power plants generate energy. To a certain extend this also happens inside the earth, i.e. there’s radioactive decay warming up the interior of our planet.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Thanks for your answers!

Ltryptophan's avatar

Oh, and rebbel I am not lost.

rebbel's avatar

@Ltryptophan
I didn’t think that, but in the (unlikely) case you were, or, for that matter, others who are, that book is really pretty insightfull (it is for me).
These are the questions i like on here!

The_Idler's avatar

Any elements can be fused;
if the resultant element is lighter than Iron (Fe), the resultant atomic mass is less than the sum of the two original masses, the difference being converted to energy, according to the equation E = mc².
Fusion of light elements; energy released

If the resultant element is heavier than Fe, the resultant atomic mass is greater than the sum of the two original masses, the difference being converted from energy, according to the equation E = mc².
Fusion of heavy elements; energy absorbed

——

Any elements can be “split”;
if the original element is heavier than Fe, the resultant sum total atomic mass is less than the original mass, the difference being converted to energy, according to the equation E = mc².
Fission of heavy elements; energy released

If the original element is lighter than Fe, the resultant sum total atomic mass is greater than the original mass, the difference being converted from energy, according to the equation E = mc².
Fission of light elements; energy absorbed

——

See the reciprocal nature of the relationship? The mass defect is a “store” of energy, and it has a symmetry around Fe. I guess that’s why some stars fizzle out into brown dwarfs…

Hence atomic fission generally involves heavy elements such as Uranium & Plutonium, while fusion involves light elements such as Hydrogen & Helium.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@The Idler What does fusion and fiission look like from two feet away?

Draconess25's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m the only person in my family that can spell that!

The_Idler's avatar

@Ltryptophan

Bit further away than two feet, but you get the idea:
Fusion
Fission

mattbrowne's avatar

@Draconess25 – Spell what?

Draconess25's avatar

@mattbrowne Nucleosynthesis. And I can also spell methylchloroisothiazolinone! And antidisestablishmentarianism!

mattbrowne's avatar

@Draconess25 – Wonderful. Can you spell Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz or Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft?

The_Idler's avatar

lol, German.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s a great English example. There’s a lung disease called pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I guess everyone struggles with its pronunciation which is noo-muh-noh-uhl-truh-mahy-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-key-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis

It’s so complicated, someone actually built a website for it:

http://www.pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.org/how-pronounce-pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

Ltryptophan's avatar

I could see some poor kids face at a spelling bee….fail

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