Nuclear Fission Lesson for Kids: Definition & Process

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever wondered how electricity is created? In this lesson, you'll learn about nuclear fission, which is one way that we can make the electricity that is used in our homes. Read on to find out about nuclear fission.

Look Inside an Atom

Atoms are like tiny building blocks; they come together in different combinations to make molecules, which form all the matter (liquids, solids, and gases) in our world. Atoms may be tiny, but there are even tinier bits inside of them!

Inside of atoms, there are neutrons, electrons, and protons. The nucleus, or the center of the atom, has the neutrons and protons in it. Energy inside the nucleus of the atom holds the neutrons and protons together. This energy is called nuclear energy. The electrons circle, or orbit, around the nucleus.

Take a look at this image of an atom and see if you can find the neutrons, electrons, and protons.


Nuclear Fission

About 80 years ago, a German scientist named Otto Hahn was experimenting with atoms. He discovered that he could split an atom apart and make it into two smaller atoms! He used tiny particles called neutrons to break apart the nucleus of an atom.

The smaller atoms didn't need as much nuclear energy to hold the neutrons and protons together in the nucleus, so some energy was released when the atom was split. The energy from the nucleus is let go as either heat or radiation. Radiation is when tiny particles are released.

The process of splitting an atom apart is called nuclear fission. The 'nuclear' part means that you are splitting the nucleus of the atom. The word 'fission' means the nucleus is being split apart.

Even though all atoms are very tiny, some of them, such as atoms of the element uranium, have a larger nucleus than others. These atoms are the ones that scientists have learned how to split in order to release energy.

A Chain Reaction

When the uranium is split, a chain reaction happens: the split atoms split again and again and again, causing them to release lots of energy!

Nuclear Energy

So why would anyone want to bother splitting apart atoms? Believe it or not, scientists have figured out how to use the nuclear energy that's released during nuclear fission to make energy that we can use to make electricity for our homes.

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