Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 105–122 | Cite as

The weak nuclear force, the chirality of atoms, and the origin of optically active molecules

  • Richard M. Pagni


Although chemical phenomena are primarily associated with electrons in atoms, ions, and molecules, the masses, charges, spins, and other properties of the nuclei in these species contribute significantly as well. Isotopes, for instance, have proven invaluable in chemistry, in particular the elucidation of reaction mechanisms. Elements with unstable nuclei, for example carbon-14 undergoing beta decay, have enriched chemistry and many other scientific disciplines. The nuclei of all elements have a much more subtle and largely unknown effect on chemical phenomena. All nuclei are innately chiral and, because electrons can penetrate nuclei, all atoms and molecules are likewise chiral. This article describes in considerable detail the discovery of chiral nuclei, how this unusual chirality may influence the chemical behavior of atoms and molecules, and how atomic chirality may have been responsible for the synthesis of optically active molecules in the pre-biotic world.


Chiral nuclei β Decay Inverse β decay Elementary particles Four forces Standard model Electron and positron chirality Theoretical calculations Pre-biotic chemistry Origin of life 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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