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The Language of the Nucleus database grew out of an educational research grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy in the early 1990’s. Its original purpose was to support a suite of tutorials and electronic laboratories on nuclear science. What a tough chore to define a glossary term: to produce a concise, meaningful definition that captured the true meaning of a term without adding complex implications that come with literary hand waving. To get up to speed in producing well-defined terms took about six months of practice.

Along the way, I discovered that nuclear science texts largely do a poor job defining terms. I now had clarity about my initial foray into studying nuclear science. Those many extra hours of studying for exams were largely devoted to untangling nuclear prose in order to understand underlying concepts. Nuclear science is also not a field unto itself, sort of a fence-sitter field. A piece lies in chemistry, another in physics, another in engineering, and we are ignoring here many fine fields where nuclear techniques are invaluable. In short, I discovered we in nuclear science do not present our young scientists a comprehensive definition of the basic language we speak.

I compiled an extensive nuclear library in support of this glossary. Textbooks span the range of disciplines from nuclear engineering to nuclear medicine, from radiochemistry to astrophysics. The earliest text is Fowler’s Elementary Chemistry, published in the mid 1800’s. Also included in the library are many hundreds of published reports, videos, and many other hundreds, possibly thousands, of electronic documents published by the U.S. government and available at some point on the web.

It is this extensive culling of information on the use of radiation and radioactivity that defines the truly unique character of the glossary. The private database now contains some 100,000+ definitions. I have populated the database with archaic terms, symbols, abbreviations, discipline-specific definitions, acronyms, and references to key information, in addition, of course, to a modern accepted usage. How else can we discover the term outhouse was used at one time by some to refer to a microbarn? How else can we understand the symbol c that now represents the speed of light was once the symbol for a Curie? What a confusing environment in which we live if we attempt to study pioneering articles on nuclear science and engineering. Confusing, that is, without The Language of the Nucleus.

Craig Stone
November 1, 2006
 
 
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