A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events.
Chain reactions are one way that systems which are not in thermodynamic equilibrium can release energy or increase entropy in order to reach a state of higher entropy. For example, a system may not be able to reach a lower energy state by releasing energy into the environment, because it is hindered or prevented in some way from taking the path that will result in the energy release. If a reaction results in a small energy release making way for more energy releases in an expanding chain, then the system will typically collapse explosively until much or all of the stored energy has been released.
A macroscopic metaphor for chain reactions is thus a snowball causing a larger snowball until finally an avalanche results ("snowball effect"). This is a result of stored gravitational potential energy seeking a path of release over friction. Chemically, the equivalent to a snow avalanche is a spark causing a forest fire. In nuclear physics, a single stray neutron can result in a prompt critical event, which may finally be energetic enough for a nuclear reactor meltdown or (in a bomb) a nuclear explosion.
Numerous chain reactions can be represented by a mathematical model based on Markov chains.
In 1913, the German chemist Max Bodenstein first put forth the idea of chemical chain reactions. If two molecules react, not only molecules of the final reaction products are formed, but also some unstable molecules which can further react with the parent molecules with a far larger probability than the initial reactants. (In the new reaction, further unstable molecules are formed besides the stable products, and so on.)
In 1918, Walther Nernst proposed that the photochemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine is a chain reaction in order to explain what is known as the quantum yield phenomena. This means that one photon of light is responsible for the formation of as many as 106 molecules of the product HCl. Nernst suggested that the photon dissociates a Cl2 molecule into two Cl atoms which each initiate a long chain of reaction steps forming HCl. 
In 1923, Danish and Dutch scientists Christian Christiansen and Hendrik Anthony Kramers, in an analysis of the formation of polymers, pointed out that such a chain reaction need not start with a molecule excited by light, but could also start with two molecules colliding violently due to thermal energy as previously proposed for initiation of chemical reactions by van' t Hoff. 
Christiansen and Kramers also noted that if, in one link of the reaction chain, two or more unstable molecules are produced, the reaction chain would branch and grow. The result is in fact an exponential growth, thus giving rise to explosive increases in reaction rates, and indeed to chemical explosions themselves. This was the first proposal for the mechanism of chemical explosions.
A quantitative chain chemical reaction theory was created later on by Soviet physicist Nikolay Semyonov in 1934.  Semyonov shared the Nobel Prize in 1956 with Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood, who independently developed many of the same quantitative concepts. 
The main types of steps in chain reaction are of the following types. 
The chain length is defined as the average number of times the propagation cycle is repeated, and equals the overall reaction rate divided by the initiation rate. 
Some chain reactions have complex rate equations with fractional order or mixed order kinetics.
The reaction H2 + Br2 → 2 HBr proceeds by the following mechanism:  
As can be explained using the steady-state approximation, the thermal reaction has an initial rate of fractional order (3/2), and a complete rate equation with a two-term denominator (mixed-order kinetics).  
The pyrolysis (thermal decomposition) of acetaldehyde, CH3CHO (g) → CH4 (g) + CO (g), proceeds via the Rice-Herzfeld mechanism:  
The methyl and CHO groups are free radicals.
This reaction step provides methane, which is one of the two main products.
The product •CH3CO (g) of the previous step gives rise to carbon monoxide (CO), which is the second main product.
The sum of the two propagation steps corresponds to the overall reaction CH3CHO (g) → CH4 (g) + CO (g), catalyzed by a methyl radical •CH3.
This reaction is the only source of ethane (minor product) and it is concluded to be the main chain ending step.
Although this mechanism explains the principal products, there are others that are formed in a minor degree, such as acetone (CH3COCH3) and propanal (CH3CH2CHO).
Applying the Steady State Approximation for the intermediate species CH3(g) and CH3CO(g), the rate law for the formation of methane and the order of reaction are found:  
The rate of formation of the product methane is
For the intermediates
Adding (2) and (3), we obtain
Using (4) in (1) gives the rate law , which is order 3/2 in the reactant CH3CHO.
A nuclear chain reaction was proposed by Leo Szilard in 1933, shortly after the neutron was discovered, yet more than five years before nuclear fission was first discovered. Szilárd knew of chemical chain reactions, and he had been reading about an energy-producing nuclear reaction involving high-energy protons bombarding lithium, demonstrated by John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, in 1932. Now, Szilárd proposed to use neutrons theoretically produced from certain nuclear reactions in lighter isotopes, to induce further reactions in light isotopes that produced more neutrons. This would in theory produce a chain reaction at the level of the nucleus. He did not envision fission as one of these neutron-producing reactions, since this reaction was not known at the time. Experiments he proposed using beryllium and indium failed.
Later, after fission was discovered in 1938, Szilárd immediately realized the possibility of using neutron-induced fission as the particular nuclear reaction necessary to create a chain-reaction, so long as fission also produced neutrons. In 1939, with Enrico Fermi, Szilárd proved this neutron-multiplying reaction in uranium. In this reaction, a neutron plus a fissionable atom causes a fission resulting in a larger number of neutrons than the single one that was consumed in the initial reaction. Thus was born the practical nuclear chain reaction by the mechanism of neutron-induced nuclear fission.
Specifically, if one or more of the produced neutrons themselves interact with other fissionable nuclei, and these also undergo fission, then there is a possibility that the macroscopic overall fission reaction will not stop, but continue throughout the reaction material. This is then a self-propagating and thus self-sustaining chain reaction. This is the principle for nuclear reactors and atomic bombs.
Demonstration of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was accomplished by Enrico Fermi and others, in the successful operation of Chicago Pile-1, the first artificial nuclear reactor, in late 1942.
An electron avalanche happens between two unconnected electrodes in a gas when an electric field exceeds a certain threshold. Random thermal collisions of gas atoms may result in a few free electrons and positively charged gas ions, in a process called impact ionization. Acceleration of these free electrons in a strong electric field causes them to gain energy, and when they impact other atoms, the energy causes release of new free electrons and ions (ionization), which fuels the same process. If this process happens faster than it is naturally quenched by ions recombining, the new ions multiply in successive cycles until the gas breaks down into a plasma and current flows freely in a discharge.
Electron avalanches are essential to the dielectric breakdown process within gases. The process can culminate in corona discharges, streamers, leaders, or in a spark or continuous electric arc that completely bridges the gap. The process may extend huge sparks — streamers in lightning discharges propagate by formation of electron avalanches created in the high potential gradient ahead of the streamers' advancing tips. Once begun, avalanches are often intensified by the creation of photoelectrons as a result of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the excited medium's atoms in the aft-tip region. The extremely high temperature of the resulting plasma cracks the surrounding gas molecules and the free ions recombine to create new chemical compounds. 
The process can also be used to detect radiation that initiates the process, as the passage of a single particles can be amplified to large discharges. This is the mechanism of a Geiger counter and also the visualization possible with a spark chamber and other wire chambers.
An avalanche breakdown process can happen in semiconductors, which in some ways conduct electricity analogously to a mildly ionized gas. Semiconductors rely on free electrons knocked out of the crystal by thermal vibration for conduction. Thus, unlike metals, semiconductors become better conductors the higher the temperature. This sets up conditions for the same type of positive feedback—heat from current flow causes temperature to rise, which increases charge carriers, lowering resistance, and causing more current to flow. This can continue to the point of complete breakdown of normal resistance at a semiconductor junction, and failure of the device (this may be temporary or permanent depending on whether there is physical damage to the crystal). Certain devices, such as avalanche diodes, deliberately make use of the effect.
In organic chemistry, an alkene is a hydrocarbon containing a carbon–carbon double bond.
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the chemical transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Classically, chemical reactions encompass changes that only involve the positions of electrons in the forming and breaking of chemical bonds between atoms, with no change to the nuclei, and can often be described by a chemical equation. Nuclear chemistry is a sub-discipline of chemistry that involves the chemical reactions of unstable and radioactive elements where both electronic and nuclear changes can occur.
The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol
, which has a neutral charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave similarly within the nucleus, and each has a mass of approximately one atomic mass unit, they are both referred to as nucleons. Their properties and interactions are described by nuclear physics. Protons and neutrons are not elementary particles; each is composed of three quarks.
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions, in addition to the study of other forms of nuclear matter.
In nuclear physics, a nuclear chain reaction occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, thus leading to the possibility of a self-propagating series of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes. A nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any chemical reaction.
Unbinilium, also known as eka-radium or simply element 120, is the hypothetical chemical element in the periodic table with symbol Ubn and atomic number 120. Unbinilium and Ubn are the temporary systematic IUPAC name and symbol, which are used until the element is discovered, confirmed, and a permanent name is decided upon. In the periodic table of the elements, it is expected to be an s-block element, an alkaline earth metal, and the second element in the eighth period. It has attracted attention because of some predictions that it may be in the island of stability.
Moscovium is a synthetic element with the symbol Mc and atomic number 115. It was first synthesized in 2003 by a joint team of Russian and American scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia. In December 2015, it was recognized as one of four new elements by the Joint Working Party of international scientific bodies IUPAC and IUPAP. On 28 November 2016, it was officially named after the Moscow Oblast, in which the JINR is situated.
Tennessine is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Ts and atomic number 117. It is the second-heaviest known element and the penultimate element of the 7th period of the periodic table.
Flerovium is a superheavy chemical element with symbol Fl and atomic number 114. It is an extremely radioactive synthetic element. It is named after the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, where the element was discovered in 1998. The lab's name, in turn, honours Russian physicist Georgy Flyorov. IUPAC adopted the name on 30 May 2012. The name and symbol had previously been proposed for element 102 (nobelium), but was not accepted by IUPAC at that time.
Nihonium is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Nh and atomic number 113. It is extremely radioactive; its most stable known isotope, nihonium-286, has a half-life of about 10 seconds. In the periodic table, nihonium is a transactinide element in the p-block. It is a member of period 7 and group 13.
An ion source is a device that creates atomic and molecular ions. Ion sources are used to form ions for mass spectrometers, optical emission spectrometers, particle accelerators, ion implanters and ion engines.
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is a process in which two nuclei, or a nucleus and an external subatomic particle, collide to produce one or more new nuclides. Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to another. If a nucleus interacts with another nucleus or particle and they then separate without changing the nature of any nuclide, the process is simply referred to as a type of nuclear scattering, rather than a nuclear reaction.
Uranium-238 is the most common isotope of uranium found in nature, with a relative abundance of 99%. Unlike uranium-235, it is non-fissile, which means it cannot sustain a chain reaction in a thermal-neutron reactor. However, it is fissionable by fast neutrons, and is fertile, meaning it can be transmuted to fissile plutonium-239. 238U cannot support a chain reaction because inelastic scattering reduces neutron energy below the range where fast fission of one or more next-generation nuclei is probable. Doppler broadening of 238U's neutron absorption resonances, increasing absorption as fuel temperature increases, is also an essential negative feedback mechanism for reactor control.
In chemistry, a reaction mechanism is the step by step sequence of elementary reactions by which overall chemical change occurs.
In chemistry, disproportionation, sometimes called dismutation, is a redox reaction in which one compound of intermediate oxidation state converts to two compounds, one of higher and one of lower oxidation states. More generally, the term can be applied to any desymmetrizing reaction of the following type, regardless of whether it is a redox or some other type of process:
In chemistry, a reaction intermediate or an intermediate is a molecular entity that is formed from the reactants but is consumed in further reactions in stepwise chemical reactions that contain multiple elementary steps. Intermediates are the reaction product of one elementary step, but do not appear in the chemical equation for an overall chemical equation.
In nuclear physics, the valley of stability is a characterization of the stability of nuclides to radioactivity based on their binding energy. Nuclides are composed of protons and neutrons. The shape of the valley refers to the profile of binding energy as a function of the numbers of neutrons and protons, with the lowest part of the valley corresponding to the region of most stable nuclei. The line of stable nuclides down the center of the valley of stability is known as the line of beta stability. The sides of the valley correspond to increasing instability to beta decay. The decay of a nuclide becomes more energetically favorable the further it is from the line of beta stability. The boundaries of the valley correspond to the nuclear drip lines, where nuclides become so unstable they emit single protons or single neutrons. Regions of instability within the valley at high atomic number also include radioactive decay by alpha radiation or spontaneous fission. The shape of the valley is roughly an elongated paraboloid corresponding to the nuclide binding energies as a function of neutron and atomic numbers.
Radiation damage is the effect of ionizing radiation on physical objects including non-living structural materials. It can be either detrimental or beneficial for materials.
This glossary of chemistry terms is a list of terms and definitions relevant to chemistry, including chemical laws, diagrams and formulae, laboratory tools, glassware, and equipment. Chemistry is a physical science concerned with the composition, structure, and properties of matter, as well as the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions; it features an extensive vocabulary and a significant amount of jargon.
Radical disproportionation encompasses a group of reactions in organic chemistry in which two radicals react to form two different non-radical products. Radicals in chemistry are defined as reactive atoms or molecules that contain an unpaired electron or electrons in an open shell. The unpaired electrons can cause radicals to be unstable and reactive. Reactions in radical chemistry can generate both radical and non-radical products. Radical disproportionation reactions can occur with many radicals in solution and in the gas phase. Due to the reactive nature of radical molecules, disproportionation proceeds rapidly and requires little to no activation energy. The most thoroughly studied radical disproportionation reactions have been conducted with alkyl radicals, but there are many organic molecules that can exhibit more complex, multi-step disproportionation reactions.