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Different types of radiation have different ranges when compared at the same energy and in the same material. Alphas have the shortest range, betas penetrate farther, and gammas have the greatest range. This is directly related to charge and speed of the particle or type of radiation. At a given energy, each α , β , or γ will produce the same number of ionizations in a material (each ionization requires a certain amount of energy on average). The more readily the particle produces ionization, the more quickly it will lose its energy. The effect of charge is as follows: The α size 12{α} {} has a charge of + 2 q e , the β has a charge of q e size 12{ - 2q rSub { size 8{e} } } {} , and the γ size 12{γ} {} is uncharged. The electromagnetic force exerted by the α size 12{α} {} is thus twice as strong as that exerted by the β size 12{β} {} and it is more likely to produce ionization. Although chargeless, the γ size 12{γ} {} does interact weakly because it is an electromagnetic wave, but it is less likely to produce ionization in any encounter.

The speed at which they travel is the other major factor affecting the range of α size 12{α} {} s, β size 12{β} {} s, and γ size 12{γ} {} s. The faster they move, the less time they spend in the vicinity of an atom or a molecule, and the less likely they are to interact. Since α size 12{α} {} s and β size 12{β} {} s are particles with mass (helium nuclei and electrons, respectively), their energy is kinetic. The mass of the β size 12{β} {} particle is thousands of times less than that of the α size 12{α} {} s, so that β size 12{β} {} s must travel much faster than α size 12{α} {} s to have the same energy. Since β size 12{β} {} s move faster, they have less time to interact than α size 12{α} {} s. Gamma rays are photons, which must travel at the speed of light. They are even less likely to interact than a β size 12{β} {} , since they spend even less time near a given atom (and they have no charge). The range of γ size 12{γ} {} s is thus greater than the range of β size 12{β} {} s.

Alpha radiation from radioactive sources has a range much less than a millimeter of biological tissues, usually not enough to even penetrate the dead layers of our skin. On the other hand, the same α radiation can penetrate a few centimeters of air, so mere distance from a source prevents α size 12{α} {} radiation from reaching us. This makes α size 12{α} {} radiation relatively safe for our body compared to β and γ size 12{γ} {} radiation. Typical β radiation can penetrate a few millimeters of tissue or about a meter of air. Beta radiation is thus hazardous even when not ingested. The range of β size 12{β} {} s in lead is about a millimeter, and so it is easy to store β sources in lead radiation-proof containers. Gamma rays have a much greater range than either α size 12{α} {} s or β size 12{β} {} s. In fact, if a given thickness of material, like a lead brick, absorbs 90% of the γ s, then a second lead brick will only absorb 90% of what got through the first. Thus, γ s do not have a well-defined range; we can only cut down the amount that gets through. Typically, γ size 12{γ} {} s can penetrate many meters of air, go right through our bodies, and are effectively shielded (that is, reduced in intensity to acceptable levels) by many centimeters of lead. One benefit of γ size 12{γ} {} s is that they can be used as radioactive tracers (see [link] ).

This figure shows four images of a skeleton of a human. Different parts of the body show bright spots wherever the bone cells are most active, indicating bone cancer.
This image of the concentration of a radioactive tracer in a patient’s body reveals where the most active bone cells are, an indication of bone cancer. A short-lived radioactive substance that locates itself selectively is given to the patient, and the radiation is measured with an external detector. The emitted γ size 12{γ} {} radiation has a sufficient range to leave the body—the range of α size 12{α} {} s and β size 12{β} {} s is too small for them to be observed outside the patient. (credit: Kieran Maher, Wikimedia Commons)

Section summary

  • Some nuclei are radioactive—they spontaneously decay destroying some part of their mass and emitting energetic rays, a process called nuclear radioactivity.
  • Nuclear radiation, like x rays, is ionizing radiation, because energy sufficient to ionize matter is emitted in each decay.
  • The range (or distance traveled in a material) of ionizing radiation is directly related to the charge of the emitted particle and its energy, with greater-charge and lower-energy particles having the shortest ranges.
  • Radiation detectors are based directly or indirectly upon the ionization created by radiation, as are the effects of radiation on living and inert materials.

Conceptual questions

Suppose the range for 5 . 0 MeV α size 12{5 "." "0 MeV" α} {} ray is known to be 2.0 mm in a certain material. Does this mean that every 5 . 0 MeV α size 12{5 "." "0 MeV" α} {} a ray that strikes this material travels 2.0 mm, or does the range have an average value with some statistical fluctuations in the distances traveled? Explain.

What is the difference between γ size 12{γ} {} rays and characteristic x rays? Is either necessarily more energetic than the other? Which can be the most energetic?

Ionizing radiation interacts with matter by scattering from electrons and nuclei in the substance. Based on the law of conservation of momentum and energy, explain why electrons tend to absorb more energy than nuclei in these interactions.

What characteristics of radioactivity show it to be nuclear in origin and not atomic?

What is the source of the energy emitted in radioactive decay? Identify an earlier conservation law, and describe how it was modified to take such processes into account.

Consider [link] . If an electric field is substituted for the magnetic field with positive charge instead of the north pole and negative charge instead of the south pole, in which directions will the α size 12{α} {} , β size 12{β} {} , and γ size 12{γ} {} rays bend?

Explain how an α size 12{α} {} particle can have a larger range in air than a β size 12{β} {} particle with the same energy in lead.

Arrange the following according to their ability to act as radiation shields, with the best first and worst last. Explain your ordering in terms of how radiation loses its energy in matter.

(a) A solid material with low density composed of low-mass atoms.

(b) A gas composed of high-mass atoms.

(c) A gas composed of low-mass atoms.

(d) A solid with high density composed of high-mass atoms.

Often, when people have to work around radioactive materials spills, we see them wearing white coveralls (usually a plastic material). What types of radiation (if any) do you think these suits protect the worker from, and how?

Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
is this allso about nanoscale material
are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where is the latest information on a no technology how can I find it
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of physics with linear momentum. OpenStax CNX. Aug 11, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11960/1.9
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