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One of the constituent particles of every atomic nucleus except ordinary hydrogen. Discovered in 1932 by James Chadwick (1891–1974), it has no electric charge and has nearly 1,840 times the mass of the electron. Free neutrons undergo beta decay with a half-life of about 10 minutes. Thus, they are not readily found in nature, except in cosmic rays. They are a penetrating form of radiation. When bombarded with neutrons, various elements undergo nuclear fission and release more free neutrons. If enough free neutrons are produced, a chain reaction can be sustained. This process led to the development of nuclear power as well as the atomic bomb. Neutron beams produced in cyclotrons and nuclear reactors are important probes of matter, revealing details of structure in both organic and inorganic susbtances.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on neutron, visit Britannica.com.