barn, abbr. b, in physics, unit of nuclear cross section, i.e., the effective target presented by a nucleus for collisions leading to nuclear reactions; it is equal to 10−24 square centimeters. The barn is approximately the size of the geometric cross section of an atomic nucleus; the term was coined because an effective cross section that large would present a target
as big as a barn,i.e., an easy target for nuclear bombardment. In practice, effective cross sections of nuclei for many reactions are measured in millibarns (10−3 barn) because, for most interactions, only a small fraction of collisions cause reactions.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics