Radiation Rays Alpha Beta and Gamma


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Radiation Rays Alpha Beta and Gamma

Radiation Rays Alpha Beta and Gamma

Radioactivity is a phenomenon that occurs naturally in a number of substances. Atoms of the substance spontaneously emit invisible but energetic radiations, which can penetrate materials that are opaque to visible light. The effects of these radiations can be harmful to living cells but, when used in the right way, they have a wide range of beneficial applications, particularly in medicine. Radioactivity has been present in natural materials on the earth since its formation (for example in potassium 40 which forms part of all our bodies). However, because its radiations cannot be detected by any of the body’s
five senses, the phenomenon was only discovered 100 years ago when radiation detectors were
developed. Nowadays we have also found ways of creating new man made sources of radioactivity;
some (like iodine 131 and molybdenum 99) are incidental waste products of the nuclear power industry which nevertheless have important medical applications, whilst others are specifically produced for the benefits of their medical use.

The energy emitted by an unstable nucleus comes packaged in very specific forms. In the years that
followed the discovery of radioactivity, it was of great interest to determine the kind of radiation emitted from the different radioactive compounds. It was found that the radiations in general consisted of
three types called: alpha (α), beta (β) and gamma (γ) radiations after the first three letters in the Greek alphabet (see figure below).
The radiation emitted transforms the element into a new element. The process is called a decay or a
disintegration.
The research leading to the identification of the radiation emitted from the radioactive atoms is exciting and fundamental. We shall give you a glimpse of this work.

Watch this video to learn more about Alpha, Beta and Gamma rays and how they work.


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