Neutral Neutrons

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12412

If you are familiar with nuclear energy or atomic bombs, you know how powerful they are! It's hard to believe all that power is in the power of a tiny particle! Learn what neutrons do when they leave!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Your car's transmission has a neutral setting. Switzerland was a neutral country in World War II.

  • When it comes to subatomic particles, what does it mean to be neutral?
  • Have you ever been stuck in the middle of an argument, trying to keep both sides happy?

It can be a hard place!

In an atom, neutral particles carry a neutral charge, meaning that they are neither positive nor negative. They are found inside an atom's nucleus alongside protons.

planetary atom model

The number of neutrons and protons added together equals the atomic mass of a substance. Consider sulfur.

  • How many protons does sulfur have?

Sulfur has 16 protons, but the atomic mass is approximately 32. The decimal portion of the mass is calculated by comparing atoms of sulfur. (You will learn more about this later in the Related Lesson about atoms.)

The difference between these values equals the number of neutrons in the atom.

  • What is the answer to 32 - 16 = ?

You should have come up with 16. One atom of sulfur has 16 protons and 16 neutrons.

In atoms with more neutrons, that can impact the substance's physical properties. It can increase the heat needed to boil the element or decrease the freezing temperature.

The only element that does not contain neutrons is hydrogen.


Hydrogen only has one proton in the atomic nucleus; notice how the atomic number and mass are almost equal. That is because it doesn't hold any neutrons!

Neutrons are important in nuclear power production because they are the subatomic particles responsible for radioactivity.

During radioactive decay, neutrons are released from the nucleus, generating large amounts of heat and energy. This heat and energy can be converted into the electrical energy in our homes.

While neutrons do not carry an electrical charge, they are an important atom part. They provide stability for the nucleus and can power large reactors that generate enormous amounts of energy.

They are calculated into the atomic mass of an atom alongside protons.

  • How might changing the number of neutrons impact an atom?
  • Why might more neutrons in an atom suggest more radioactivity?

Reflect on these questions by writing a summary sentence on the role of neutrons in the atom.

Then, continue to the Got It? section to study the history of the discovery of neutrons.

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