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what is radiation

What is Radiation?

Health Physics Society - Power Reactor Section

Radiation Science Education

  • Ionizing & Non-Ionizing
  • Photons & Particles
  • Stable & Unstable Atoms
  • Half -Life
  • Radiation Detectors
ionizing non ionizing radiation
Ionizing & Non-Ionizing Radiation
  • Ionizing Radiation: Radiation is energy transmitted as particles or waves. Ionizing radiation has sufficient energy to dislodge orbital electrons, thereby producing ions.
    • Examples: alpha, beta, gamma, neutron, and x-rays
  • Non-Ionizing Radiation: Radiation that does not have sufficient energy to dislodge orbital electrons.
    • Examples: visible light, infra-red , micro-waves, radio-waves, and radar
ionizing radiation hits an atom
Ionizing Radiation Hits An Atom





particles and photons
Particles and Photons
  • Radiation can be in the form of particles or waves (photons).
  • The most common types of ionizing radiation are alpha, beta, gamma, neutron, and x-rays.
    • Gamma and x-ray radiation are photons. They are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and considered packets of pure energy.
    • Alpha, beta, and neutron radiation are particles having mass. Betas are electrons and alphas are helium nuclei.
radioactive decay the process of unstable atoms spontaneously emitting radiation
Radioactive Decay:The process of unstable atoms spontaneously emitting radiation.


Half-Life = 1.3

billion years

Parent Nucleus


Unstable atom

Daughter Nucleus


Stable atom

what is half life
What is Half-Life?
  • Radioactive decay is the process where an unstable atom emits radiation.
  • Radioactive decay changes unstable atoms into more stable atoms.
  • Half-life is the time it takes for 1/2 the atoms of a particular radioactive element to transform itself by decay.
gas filled detectors
Gas-Filled Detectors

Voltage Source














Anode +

Cathode -

key concepts
Key Concepts
  • Radioactive Decay: The process where an unstable atom transforms itself into a more stable atom by spontaneous emission of radiation.
  • Ionizing Radiation: Any radiation which is capable of dislodging electrons from atoms thereby producing ions.
  • Half Life: The time it takes for one-half of the atoms of a particular radioactive element to transform itself by radioactive decay.
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission Home Page: www.nrc.gov
  • Nuclear Energy Institute Home Page: www.nei.org
  • Health Physics Society Home Page: www.hps.org
      • www.hps.org/publicinformation/radfactsheets/