Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 19



Radioactivity is the decay or disintegration of the nucleus of a radioactive element.
The radiation emitted is the alpha-particles, the beta-particles and the gamma rays
and a lot of heat. This phenomenon was first discovered by a French Physicist, Henri
Becquerel in 1896. Other famous people parts of this radioactive era are; Lord
Rutherford, and the Curie couple, Marie and Pierre. Radioactive decay is
a stochastic (i.e., random) process at the level of single atoms, in that, according
to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a particular atom will
decay. However, the chance that a given atom will decay is constant over time.

A diagram showing an alpha particle () being ejected

from the nucleus of an atom. Protons are red and
neutrons are blue.



In March of 1896, during a time of overcast weather, Becquerel found he couldn't

use the sun as an initiating energy source for his experiments. He put his wrapped
photographic plates away in a darkened drawer, along with some crystals
containing uranium. Much to his Becquerel's surprise, the plates were exposed
during storage by invisible emanations from the uranium. The emanations did not
require the presence of an initiating energy source--the crystals emitted rays on
their own! Although Becquerel did not pursue his discovery of radioactivity, others
did and, in so doing, changed the face of both modern medicine and modern
science. He was a member of a scientific family extending through several
generations, the most notable being his grandfather Antoine-Csar Becquerel
(17881878), his father, Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel (182091), and his son Jean
Becquerel. (18781953)


Working in the Becquerel lab, Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, began what
became a life long study of radioactivity. It took fresh and open minds, along with
much dedicated work, for these scientists to establish the properties of radioactive
matter. Marie Curie wrote, "The subject seemed to us very attractive and all the
more so because the question was entirely new and nothing yet had been written
upon it." On February 17, 1898, the Curies tested an ore of uranium, pitchblende,
for its ability to turn air into a conductor of electricity. The Curies found that the
pitchblende produced a current 300 times stronger than that produced by pure
uranium. They tested and recalibrated their instruments, and yet they still found the
same puzzling results. The Curies reasoned that a very active unknown substance in
addition to the uranium must exist within the pitchblende. In the title of a paper
describing this hypothesized element (which they named polonium after Marie's
native Poland), they introduced the new term: "radio-active."
After much grueling work, the Curies were able to extract enough polonium and
another radioactive element, radium, to establish the chemical properties of these
elements. Marie Curie, with her husband and continuing after his death, established
the first quantitative standards by which the rate of radioactive emission of charged
particles from elements could be measured and compared. In addition, she found
that there was a decrease in the rate of radioactive emissions over time and that
this decrease could be calculated and predicted. But perhaps Marie Curie's greatest
and most unique achievement was her realization that radiation is an atomic
property of matter rather than a separate independent emanation. Polish-born
French physicist, famous for her work on radioactivity and twice a winner of the
Nobel Prize. With Henri Becquerel and her husband, Pierre Curie, she was awarded
the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics. She was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize
for Chemistry. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she is the only
woman to win the award in two different fields.


In 1911, Rutherford conducted a series of experiments in which he bombarded a

piece of gold foil with positively charged (alpha) particles emitted by radioactive
material. Most of the particles passed through the foil undisturbed, suggesting that
the foil was made up mostly of empty space rather than of a sheet of solid atoms.
Some alpha particles, however, "bounced back," indicating the presence of solid
matter. Atomic particles, Rutherford's work showed, consisted primarily of empty
space surrounding a well-defined central core called a nucleus.
In a long and distinguished career, Rutherford laid the groundwork for the
determination of atomic structure. In addition to defining the planetary model of the
atom, he showed that radioactive elements undergo a process of decay over time.
And, in experiments which involved what newspapers of his day called "splitting the
atom," Rutherford was the first to artificially transmute one element into another-unleashing the incredible power of the atom which would eventually be harnessed
for both beneficial and destructive purposes.
Taken together, the work of Becquerel, the Curies, Rutherford and others,
made modern medical and scientific research more than a dream. They
made it a reality with many applications. A look at the use of isotopes
reveals just some of the ways in which the pioneering work of these
scientists has been utilized.

1. Alpha-particles: This type of radiation is positively charged. It is
relatively massive. It has a low penetrating power. Its about 1-20th as
fast as light. It is exactly like the helium atom.

2. Beta-particles: This type of radiation is negatively charged (but can

also be +vely charged). It is relatively light. It is about as fast as light.
They are high energy electrons. It has a medium penetrating power.
3. Gamma Rays: This radiation is neutral in charge. Has a very high
penetrating power. It is at the speed of light. It is an electromagnetic
wave with very short wavelength. It is very light.


This is the type of radioactivity which consists of a spontaneous
decay of the radioactive nucleus. The phenomenon is experienced
by naturally radioactive substances. The radiation might come out
individually or combined and, as always, with a lot of energy.
Some radioactive substances are:

Americium -241: Used in many smoke detectors for homes and business.
To measure levels of toxic lead in dried paint samples. To ensure uniform
thickness in rolling processes like steel and paper production and to help
determine where oil wells should be drilled.

Cadmium -109: Used to analyze metal alloys for checking stock, sorting
Calcium - 47: Important aid to biomedical researchers studying the cell
functions and bone formation of mammals.
Californium - 252: Used to inspect airline luggage for hidden explosives...to
gauge the moisture content of soil in the road construction and building
industries...and to measure the moisture of materials stored in silos.
Carbon - 14: Helps in research to ensure that potential new drugs are
metabolized without forming harmful by-products.
Cesium - 137: Used to treat cancers. To measure correct patient dosages of
radioactive pharmaceuticals. To measure and control the liquid flow in oil
pipelines. To tell researchers whether oil wells are plugged by sand. And to
ensure the right fills level for packages of food, drugs and other products.
(The products in these packages do not become radioactive.)
Chromium - 51: Used in research in red blood cell survival studies.
Cobalt - 57: Used in nuclear medicine to help physicians interpret diagnosis
scans of patients' organs, and to diagnose pernicious anemia.
Cobalt - 60: Used to sterilize surgical instruments. To improve the safety
and reliability of industrial fuel oil burners. And to preserve poultry fruits and
Copper - 67: When injected with monoclonal antibodies into a cancer
patient, helps the antibodies bind to and destroy the tumor.
Curium - 244: Used in mining to analyze material excavated from pits
slurries from drilling operations.
Iodine - 123: Widely used to diagnose thyroid disorders.
Iodine - 129: Used to check some radioactivity counters in vitro diagnostic
testing laboratories.

Iodine - 131: Used to diagnose and treat thyroid disorders. (Former

President George Bush and Mrs. Bush were both successfully treated for
Grave's disease, a thyroid disease, with radioactive iodine.)
Iridium - 192: Used to test the integrity of pipeline welds, boilers and
aircraft parts.
Iron - 55: Used to analyze electroplating solutions.
Krypton - 85: Used in indicator lights in appliances like clothes washer and
dryers, stereos and coffee makers. To gauge the thickness of thin plastics
and sheet metal, rubber, textiles and paper. And to measure dust and
pollutant levels.
Nickel - 63: Used to detect explosives. And as voltage regulators and
current surge protectors in electronic devices.
Phosphorus - 32: Used in molecular biology and genetics research.
Plutonium - 238: Has safely powered at least 20 NASA spacecraft since
Polonium - 210: Reduces the static charge in production of photographic
film and phonograph records.
Promethium - 147: Used in electric blanket thermostats. And to gauge the
thickness of thin plastics, thin sheet metal, rubber, textiles, and paper.
Radium - 226: Makes lightning rods more effective.
Selenium - 75: Used in protein studies in life science research.
Sodium - 24: Used to locate leaks in industrial pipelines. And in oil well
Strontium - 85: Used to study bone formation and metabolism.
Technetium - 99m: The most widely used radioactive isotope for diagnostic
studies in nuclear medicine. Different chemical forms are used for brain,
bone, liver, spleen and kidney imaging and also for blood flow studies.

Thallium - 204: Measures the dust and pollutant levels on filter paper...and
gauges the thickness of plastics, sheet metal, rubber, textiles and paper.
Thoriated tungsten: Used in electric are welding rods in the construction,
aircraft, petrochemical and food processing equipment industries. It produces
easier starting, greater arc stability and less metal contamination.
Thorium - 229: Helps fluorescent lights to last longer.
Thorium - 230: Provides coloring and fluorescence in colored glazes and
Tritium: Used for life science and drug metabolism studies to ensure the
safety of potential new drugs. For self-luminous aircraft and commercial exit
signs. For luminous dials, gauges and wrist watches and to produce luminous
Uranium - 234: Used in dental fixtures like crowns and dentures to provide
a natural color and brightness.
Uranium - 235: Fuel for nuclear power plants and naval nuclear propulsion
systems. Also used to produce fluorescent glassware, a variety of colored
glazes and wall tiles.
Xenon - 133: Used in nuclear medicine for lung ventilation and blood flow


In this radioactivity, normally unreactive elements are made reactive by
bombarding them with radiation. Curie and Joliot showed that when lighter elements
such as boron and aluminum were bombarded with -particles, there was a
continuous emission of radioactive radiations, even after the source had been
removed. They showed that the radiation was due to the emission of a particle
carrying one unit positive charge with mass equal to that of an electron.
Neutron activation is the main form of induced radioactivity, which happens when
free neutrons are captured by nuclei. This new heavier isotope can be stable or
unstable (radioactive) depending on the chemical element involved. Because free

neutrons disintegrate within minutes outside of an atomic nucleus, neutron

radiation can be obtained only from nuclear disintegrations, nuclear reactions, and
high-energy reactions (such as in cosmic radiation showers or particle
accelerator collisions). Neutrons that have been slowed down through a neutron
moderator (thermal neutrons) are more likely to be captured by nuclei than fast
A less common form involves removing a neutron via photodisintegration. In this
reaction, a high energy photon (gamma ray) strikes a nucleus with energy greater
than the binding energy of the atom, releasing a neutron. This reaction has a
minimum cutoff of 2 MeV (for deuterium) and around 10 MeV for most heavy nuclei.
Many radionuclides do not produce gamma rays with energy high enough to induce
this reaction. The isotopes used in food irradiation (cobalt-60, caesium-137) both
have energy peaks below this cutoff and thus cannot induce radioactivity in the
Some induced radioactivity is produced by background radiation, which is mostly
natural. However, since natural radiation is not very intense in most places
on Earth, the amount of induced radioactivity in a single location is usually very
The conditions inside certain types of nuclear reactors with high neutron flux can
cause induced radioactivity. The components in those reactors may become highly
radioactive from the radiation to which they are exposed. Induced radioactivity
increases the amount of nuclear waste that must eventually be disposed, but it is
not referred to as radioactive contamination unless it is uncontrolled.

Universal law of radioactive decay

Radioactivity is one very frequent example of exponential decay. The law describes
the statistical behavior of a large number of nuclides, rather than individual ones. In
the following formalism, the number of nuclides or nuclide population N, is of course
a discrete variable (a natural number)but for any physical sample N is so large
(amounts of L = 1023, Avogadro's constant) that t can be treated as a continuous
variable. Differential calculus is needed to set up differential equations for modeling
the behavior of the nuclear decay.

One-decay process
Consider the case of a nuclide A decaying into another B by some process A
B (emission of other particles, like electron neutrinos
e and electrons e in beta decay, are irrelevant in what follows). The decay of an
unstable nucleus is entirely random and it is impossible to predict when a particular
atom will decay. However, it is equally likely to decay at any time. Therefore, given
a sample of a particular radioisotope, the number of decay events dN expected to
occur in a small interval of time dt is proportional to the number of atoms present N,
that is

Particular radionuclides decay at different rates, so each has its own decay
constant . The expected decay dN/N is proportional to an increment of
time, dt:

The negative sign indicates that N decreases as time increases, as each

decay event follows one after another. The solution to this firstorder differential equation is the function:

Where N0 is the value of N at time t = 0.

We have for all time t:

Where Ntotal is the constant number of particles throughout the decay

process, clearly equal to the initial number of A nuclides since this is
the initial substance.

If the number of non-decayed A nuclei is:

Then the number of nuclei of B, i.e. number of decayed A nuclei, is

Given a sample of a particular radionuclide, the half-life is the time taken for half the
radionuclide's atoms to decay. For the case of one-decay nuclear reactions:

The half-life is related to the decay constant as follows: set N = N0/2 and t = T1/2 to

This relationship between the half-life and the decay constant shows that highly
radioactive substances are quickly spent, while those that radiate weakly endure
longer. Half-lives of known radionuclides vary widely, from more than 10 years, such
as for the very nearly stable nuclide


Bi, to 1023 seconds for highly unstable ones.

The factor of ln (2) in the above relations results from the fact that concept of "halflife" is merely a way of selecting a different base other than the natural base e for
the lifetime expression. The time constant is the e -1 -life, the time until only
1/e remains, about 36.8%, rather than the 50% in the half-life of a radionuclide.
Thus, is longer than t1/2. The following equation can be shown to be valid:

Since radioactive decay is exponential with a constant probability, each process

could as easily be described with a different constant time period that (for example)
gave its "(1/3)-life" (how long until only 1/3 is left) or "(1/10)-life" (a time period until
only 10% is left), and so on. Thus, the choice of and t1/2 for marker-times, are only

for convenience, and from convention. They reflect a fundamental principle only in
so much as they show that the same proportion of a given radioactive substance
will decay, during any time-period that one chooses.
Mathematically, the nth life for the above situation would be found in the same way
as aboveby setting N = N0/n, {{{1}}} and substituting into the decay solution to


According to the Big Bang theory, stable isotopes of the lightest five elements
(H, He, and traces of Li, Be, and B) were produced very shortly after the emergence
of the universe, in a process called Big Bang nucleosynthesis. These lightest stable
nuclides (including deuterium) survive to today, but any radioactive isotopes of the
light elements produced in the Big Bang (such as tritium) have long since decayed.
Isotopes of elements heavier than boron were not produced at all in the Big Bang,
and these first five elements do not have any long-lived radioisotopes. Thus, all
radioactive nuclei are, therefore, relatively young with respect to the birth of the
universe, having formed later in various other types of nucleosynthesis in stars (in
particular, supernovae), and also during ongoing interactions between stable
isotopes and energetic particles. For example, carbon-14, a radioactive nuclide with
a half-life of only 5730 years, is constantly produced in Earth's upper atmosphere
due to interactions between cosmic rays and nitrogen.

Nuclides that are produced by radioactive decay are called radiogenic nuclides,
whether they themselves are stable or not. There exist stable radiogenic nuclides
that were formed from short-lived extinct radionuclides in the early solar
system. The extra presence of these stable radiogenic nuclides (such as Xe-129
from primordial I-129) against the background of primordial stable nuclides can be
inferred by various means. Radioactive primordial nuclides found in the Earth are
residues from ancient supernova explosions which occurred before the formation of
the solar system. They are the long-lived fraction of radionuclides surviving in the
primordial solar nebula through planet accretion until the present. The naturally
occurring short-lived radiogenic radionuclides found in rocks are the daughters of
these radioactive primordial nuclides. Another minor source of naturally occurring
radioactive nuclides are cosmogenic nuclides, formed by cosmic ray bombardment
of material in the Earth's atmosphere or crust. The radioactive decay of these
radionuclides in rocks within Earth's mantle and crust contribute significantly
to Earth's internal heat budget.

1. USING A DOSIMETER OR A FILM BADGE: A dosimeter is a device worn by
workers. It
is basically a
darkens on
of radiation.
It is
used to
know the
level of
the worker
exposed to.

2. A GEIGER COUNTER: This consists of a Geiger-Muller tube (which consists of

a wire), a scale/rate meter, and often a loudspeaker. The walls of the container
acts as the cathode while the central wire acts as the anode. The radiation
enters through a thin window. Each particle or ray ionizes several gas atoms.
Ions attracted to the cathode, electrons to the anode. Other atoms are hit on the
way creating an avalanche of more ions and electrons. The loudspeaker
amplifies a click sound for each pulse showing the randomness of the decay.
3. Pulse (Wulf Electroscope)
4. Cloud Chamber
5. Bubble Chamber
6. Scintillation Counter (for detecting gamma rays)

1. Radiology: This is used for research and study in the medical field.
2. Radiotherapy: This is used in the treatment of diseases, especially
cancer. Due to the penetrating power of gamma rays, they are used to
collectively and controllably destroy malignant cells.

3. Irradiation: This is the exposure of controlled gamma rays to fruits or

vegetables to delay ripening and improve freshness length of the irradiated

4. Gamma-Radiography: This is the production of a special type of photograph,

a radiograph. It is used for quality control in industries. The making of a
radiograph requires some type of recording mechanism. The most common
device is film. A radiograph is actually a photographic recording produced by
the passage of radiation through a subject onto a film, producing what is called
a latent image of the subject.
5. Radiocarbon or carbon dating: All living matter contains carbon-14
absorbed from the atmosphere. This radioactive element has a half-life of
about 5300 years. The element continues decaying even after death of the
living organism. This phenomenon is used to estimate the amount of years the
organisms have been in existence. This is very useful to archaeologists and
6. Tracers are a common application of radioisotopes. A tracer is a radioactive
element whose pathway through which a chemical reaction can be followed.
Tracers are commonly used in the medical field and in the study of plants and
animals. Radioactive Iodine-131 can be used to study the function of the
thyroid gland assisting in detecting disease.


Nuclear reactors are

devices that control fission
reactions producing new
substances from the fission
product and energy. Nuclear
power stations use uranium in
fission reactions as a fuel to
produce energy. Steam is
generated by the heat released

7. Other uses of radioactivity: Sterilization of medical instruments and

food is another common application of radiation. By subjecting the
instruments and food to concentrated beams of radiation, we can kill
microorganisms that cause contamination and disease. Because this is
done with high energy radiation sources using electromagnetic energy,
there is no fear of residual radiation. Also, the instruments and food may
be handled without fear of radiation poisoning.


The dangers of radioactivity and radiation were not immediately recognized. The
discovery of X-rays in 1895 led to wide spread experimentation by scientists,
physicians, and inventors. Many people began recounting stories of burns, hair loss
and worse in technical journals as early as 1896. In February of that year, Professor
Daniel and Dr. Dudley of Vanderbilt University performed an experiment involving xraying Dudley's head that resulted in him losing hair under where the tube was
placed (reported in the The X-rays Science news supplement). A report by Dr. H.D.
Hawks, a graduate of Columbia College, of his suffering severe hand and chest
burns in an x-ray demonstration, was the first of many other reports in Electrical
Review. Many experimenters including Elihu Thomson at Thomas Edison's
lab, William J. Morton, and Nikola Tesla also reported burns. Elihu Thomson
deliberately exposed a finger to an x-ray tube over a period of time and suffered
pain, swelling, and blistering. Other effects were sometime blamed for the damage
including ultraviolet rays and (according to Tesla) ozone. Many physicians claimed
there were no effects form x-ray exposure at all.
The genetic effects of radiation, including the effect of cancer risk, were recognized
much later. In 1927, Hermann Joseph Muller published research showing genetic
effects, and in 1946 was awarded the Nobel Prize for his findings.
Before the biological effects of radiation were known, many physicians and
corporations began marketing radioactive substances as patent medicine in the
form of glow-in-the-dark pigments. Examples were radium enema treatments, and
radium-containing waters to be drunk as tonics. Marie Curie protested this sort of
treatment, warning that the effects of radiation on the human body were not well

understood. Curie later died from aplastic anemia, likely caused by exposure to
ionizing radiation. By the 1930s, after a number of cases of bone necrosis and death
of enthusiasts, radium-containing medicinal products had been largely removed
from the market (radioactive quackery).