In elements with smaller atomic numbers, we will typically see graphic renderings of the nuclear structure with the protons and neutrons displaying some sort of symmetry spread within the nucleus. This makes sense, and is to my understanding some relation to what makes the nucleus stable against the repulsive forces of the protons.

In larger elements such as Uranium, there is more variation for the nucleons to be spread out, does this mean that 2 Uranium nuclei don't necessarily have the same topology? If the answer is no when comparing between two stable nuclei, does this hold for comparing between 2 unstable like nuclei?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Those drawings are merely depictions and have no actual relevance to the location of nucleons in the nucleus. $\endgroup$
    – Triatticus
    May 7, 2018 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ Does that mean that even smaller sized elements might have variations between their nuclei? $\endgroup$
    – M Ferguson
    May 7, 2018 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ Highly relevant (possible duplicate?): physics.stackexchange.com/questions/36469/… $\endgroup$ May 7, 2018 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for posting link. Answered very well in that thread. $\endgroup$
    – M Ferguson
    May 7, 2018 at 3:03

1 Answer 1


Nucleons aren't localizable within nuclei, just like electrons aren't localizable within an atom. In fact, the shell model describes the nucleons as spread out in orbitals in a way very similar to the way electrons are smeared out in their atomic orbitals.

All nuclei of a given element are indistinguishable, but that doesn't mean that you can locate the nucleons within them.


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