Nuclear fission caused by absorption of a neutron by uranium-235. The heavy nuclide fragments into lighter components and additional neutrons.
Models depicting the nucleus and electron energy levels in hydrogen, helium, lithium, and neon atoms. In reality, the diameter of the nucleus is about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of the atom.

A small fraction (about one in 1000) of free neutrons decay with the same products, but add an extra particle in the form of an emitted gamma ray:

This gamma ray may be thought of as an "internal bremsstrahlung" that arises from the electromagnetic interaction of the emitted beta particle with the proton. Internal bremsstrahlung gamma ray production is also a minor feature of beta decays of bound neutrons (as discussed below).

The transformation of a free proton to a neutron (plus a positron and a neutrino) is energetically impossible, since a free neutron has a greater mass than a free proton. But a high-energy collision of a proton and an electron or neutrino can result in a neutron.

Inside a nucleus, a proton can transform into a neutron via inverse beta decay, if an energetically allowed quantum state is available for the neutron. This transformation occurs by emission of a positron and an electron neutrino:

The transformation of a proton to a neutron inside of a nucleus is also possible through electron capture:

Positron capture by neutrons in nuclei that contain an excess of neutrons is also possible, but is hindered because positrons are repelled by the positive nucleus, and quickly annihilate when they encounter electrons.

The decay of the proton to a neutron occurs similarly through the electroweak force. The decay of one of the proton's up quarks into a down quark can be achieved by the emission of a W boson. The proton decays into a neutron, a positron, and an electron neutrino. This reaction can only occur within an atomic nucleus which has a quantum state at lower energy available for the created neutron.

Another method to determine the mass of a neutron starts from the beta decay of the neutron, when the momenta of the resulting proton and electron are measured.

The above treatment compares neutrons with protons, allowing the complex behavior of quarks to be subtracted out between models, and merely exploring what the effects would be of differing quark charges (or quark type). Such calculations are enough to show that the interior of neutrons is very much like that of protons, save for the difference in quark composition with a down quark in the neutron replacing an up quark in the proton.

The simplified classical view of the neutron's charge distribution also "explains" the fact that the neutron magnetic dipole points in the opposite direction from its spin angular momentum vector (as compared to the proton). This gives the neutron, in effect, a magnetic moment which resembles a negatively charged particle. This can be reconciled classically with a neutral neutron composed of a charge distribution in which the negative sub-parts of the neutron have a larger average radius of distribution, and therefore contribute more to the particle's magnetic dipole moment, than do the positive parts that are, on average, nearer the core.

Fast neutron detectors have the advantage of not requiring a moderator, and are therefore capable of measuring the neutron's energy, time of arrival, and in certain cases direction of incidence.

Free neutrons are unstable, although they have the longest half-life of any unstable subatomic particle by several orders of magnitude. Their half-life is still only about 10 minutes, so they can be obtained only from sources that produce them continuously.

Another use of neutron emitters is the detection of light nuclei, in particular the hydrogen found in water molecules. When a fast neutron collides with a light nucleus, it loses a large fraction of its energy. By measuring the rate at which slow neutrons return to the probe after reflecting off of hydrogen nuclei, a neutron probe may determine the water content in soil.

Because neutron radiation is both penetrating and ionizing, it can be exploited for medical treatments. However, neutron radiation can have the unfortunate side-effect of leaving the affected area radioactive. Neutron tomography is therefore not a viable medical application.

Cold neutron source providing neutrons at about the temperature of liquid hydrogen
The fusion reaction rate increases rapidly with temperature until it maximizes and then gradually drops off. The D–T rate peaks at a lower temperature (about 70 keV, or 800 million kelvins) and at a higher value than other reactions commonly considered for fusion energy.

A fission energy neutron that has slowed down but not yet reached thermal energies is called an epithermal neutron.