Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM40311
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 4
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N




The course unit unit aims to provide:

  • an understanding of the nature and properties of the atomic nucleus
  • knowledge of the chemistry of the actinide elements, particularly electronic and molecular structure of actinide species
  • an explanation of the origins of the chemical elements and their abundances, including the physical mechanisms and the relationships to the life cycles of stars.


The Atomic Nucleus (Francis Livens)

This section of the module provides an introduction to the physics of the atomic nucleus. Areas covered include:  

  • Nuclear composition and properties; isotopes
  • Nuclear reactions and their energetic driving forces
  • Radioactive decay modes, their energetics and characteristics
  • Physical models of the nucleus (liquid drop; shell; collective)
  • Phenomenological description of nuclear fission

Origin of the Elements (Francis Livens)

This section of the module provides an understanding of nucleosynthesis (synthesis of the elements by nuclear reactions in stars). Areas covered include:  

  • Energetics of fusion and neutron capture reactions, including resonant reactions
  • Distributions of particle energies and reaction cross sections; the Gamow peak
  • Nucleosynthesis by fusion; hydrogen burning; helium burning; the CNO cycle
  • The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
  • Neutron capture reactions; s-process; r-process
  • Experimental evidence for s-process and r-process; the Ivy Mike thermonuclear test

Subvalent Actinide Chemistry (Steve Liddle)

This section of the module covers all aspects of contemporary low oxidation state actinide chemistry, focusing on the molecular chemistry of air-sensitive uranium complexes. Areas covered include:

  • General actinide periodicity and bonding.
  • Determination of formal oxidation states and covalency.
  • Starting material synthesis and synthetic route selection.
  • Common ligands, including redox-active ligands.
  • Arene actinide complexes.
  • Actinyl chemistry and reduction of actinyl units.
  • Small molecule activation chemistry.
  • Actinide-element multiple bonding.

Optical spectroscopy of lanthanides and actinides (Louise Natrajan)

This section of the module covers the origin and uses of the optical (absorption and emission) properties of the lanthanide and actinide ions focussing on their use as luminescent chemical sensors and probes. Topics covered include:

  • General lanthanide periodicity and nature of the f-orbitals in bonding
  • Determination of coordination numbers in lanthanide complexes in aqueous solution
  • Origin of the intra f-f electronic transitions (absorption and emission)
  • Construction of energy level diagrams and sensitised emission using organic chromophores
  • Modulation of lanthanide luminescence to sense and probe biologically important chemical species
  • Optical properties of the uranyl ion
  • Optical properties of the trivalent actinide ions
  • Using the luminescence of actinide ions to determine speciation in the environment

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand simple models of the atomic nucleus and their relevance to physical properties.
  • Explain the origins of the chemical elements and their universal abundances, and relate element production to the life cycle of stars and the nuclear reactions that take place in them.
  • Understand the interaction of radition with matter and the methods of radiation detection
  • Understand the electronic structure and chemistry of the actinide elements and salient features of their chemistry.

Intellectual skills

Students should be able to:

  • Understand the basic concepts of radiochemistry
  • Synthesise the basic principles of relevant physics and chemistry


Transferable skills and personal qualities

The following transferable skills will be developed:

  • Assimilation of complex physical and chemical concepts
  • Analysis and synthesis of diverse ideas from different topics in the course
  • Nuclear weapons design
  • Time management and organisation

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 100%

Recommended reading

Radiochemistry and nuclear chemistry (3rd ed) By Gregory R. Choppin, Jan-Olov Liljenzin, Jan Rydberg

Feedback methods

Nucleosynthesis: There is a workshop session at the end of the nucleosythesis section, where the students can attempt and receive feedback on questions.

The atomic nucleus: Students attempt past paper questions, and these are then worked through in a workshop

Interactions of radiation with matter: The last lectures are interspersed with problems and questions to go through questions that were set during the course.

Chemistry of the Actinides: The last lecture is a Workshop/Examples Class.

Staff are also available to see students.


Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 24 hours
  • Independent study hours - 74 hours

Teaching staff

Francis Livens - Unit coordinator

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