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"... but What is it Good for?"

As in other scientific fields, nuclear scientists generally work with a great interest and excitement for the science. Understanding the building blocks of nature and the physical laws that govern them is the ultimate goal. On the other hand, members of the public are the taxpayers who finance most research in basic science and, understandably, often want to see something more concrete emerge from their investments, some further benefit to society. In the century since Rutherford discovered the nucleus, numerous applications take advantage of one or more of the following: 1) the properties of nuclei, 2) measurement techniques developed in nuclear physics, 3) particle accelerators, and 4) other tools of nuclear science such as detectors.

    Fig. 13-1. Applications of nuclear science.

These applications benefit disciplines as diverse as medicine, biology, art, archaeology, energy, materials science, space exploration, and the environment. Many of these applications are detailed in Fig. 13-1. Only, a sample of them will be described in this chapter. The energy applications of nuclear science are described separately in Chapter 14.

The following examples are illustrative of the wide variety of applications of nuclear science. While some of these applications are very specific and have little effect on our daily lives, many of these applications are all pervasive. We probably use some electricity generated by nuclear reactors, protect our homes with smoke alarms, and have all been affected by the geopolitics of nuclear weapons.

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