Radiation & Radioactivity In preparation for the Radioactivity iLab on iLabCentral.org Created by: Northwestern University, Office of STEM Education Partnerships Some information was provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Dept. of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Radiation Answers, and the Non-Destructive Testing Resource Center.
Radiation is the emission of energy from a source that travels in the form of either: 1) waves 2) high-speed particles • As the root word “radiate” implies, when energy travels via radiation, it spreads out in all directions from a central point. • Many types of energy radiate through space including light and heat. What is radiation?
Yes there are different types of radiation, which can generally broken down into two categorizations: Electromagnetic vs. Particle radiation Ionizing vs. Non-ionizing radiation Are there different types of radiation?
Radiation in the form of waves is called electromagnetic radiation. • Electromagnetic radiation is used in microwave ovens, TVs, cell phones, power lines, and even sunshine. • These types of radiation have different wavelengths & frequencies along the electromagnetic spectrum (right). Electromagnetic Radiation
Radiation in the form of high-speed particlesis called particle radiation. • Particle radiation happens when an unstable nucleus releases energy in the form of fast-moving sub-atomic particles, in order to become more stable. • The main examples of particle radiation are alpha and betaparticles, which are released from certain radioactive materials as they decay over time. Particle Radiation
Ionizing radiationhas enough energy to break chemical bonds in molecules, or remove tightly bound electrons from atoms, which creates charged molecules or atoms (ions). • The ionization releases energy that is absorbed by material surrounding the ionized atom. • Ionizing radiation can be both electromagnetic and particle radiation. • Exposure to this type of radiation is dangerous to humans, because it can cause damage to living tissue. • Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms in a molecule, but not enough energy to remove electrons. • Non-ionizing radiation is not as harmful to people as ionizing radiation. Ionizing vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation
Ionizing vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation Credit: Canadian Nuclear Association
Radioactivity is the spontaneous emission of energy from an unstable nucleus of an atom by radiation, in the form of particles or rays. • This process is also known as radioactive decay, in which an unstable (radioactive) nucleus emits ionizing radiation and becomes more stable. • Examples of radioactive materials are strontium-90, plutonium-239, carbon-14, uranium-235, and iodine-131. What is radioactivity, or radioactive decay?
Alpha () particles • Made up of two protons and two neutrons bound together • They move slowly and can be stopped by a sheet of paper or human skin • Beta () particles • Made up of electrons • They move faster than alpha but lose their energy when they collide with other atom • Some beta particles can be stopped by human skin, but if they are ingested, the particles can be absorbed into the bones and cause damage • Gamma () rays • High-frequency photons with no charge • Can penetrate paper and aluminum, but are stopped by a thick layer of lead or concrete (think of wearing lead vests when getting x-rays) • If a person is exposed to gamma rays, severe damage can be caused to their internal organs What types of radiation are emitted during radioactive decay? Credit: Wikipedia
Radioactivity is measured by a Geiger counter, which measures ionizing radiation by counting the number of particles or rays (photons) it detects. • Geiger counters usually consist of three parts: • 1) Geiger-Mueller tube – a gas-filled tube whose gas ionizes when charged particles or photons from radioactive material pass through the gas • 2) Visual readout – a meter that keeps track of the number of radioactive particles or photons being detected by the Geiger counter • 3) Audio readout – a meter that makes one “click” sound for each radioactive particle or photon detected by the Geiger counter • Hear what a Geiger counter sounds like: http://www.geigercounters.com/Geiger.wav How is radioactivity measured? Credit: ThinkQuest
The lab equipment consists of: • 1) A Geiger counter • 2) A radioactive strontium-90 sample • You can set: • 1) The distances in mm from the strontium-90 source, at which radiation can be measured (in units of “particle counts”) • 2) The measurement time in seconds that each measurement of particle counts will last • 3) The number of trials that will be conducted • In this lab, you can study how the intensity of radiation changes over distance. The Radioactivity iLab
Strontium (Sr) is a silvery metal, and turns yellow quickly when exposed to air. • Strontium-90 emits beta particlesas it decays. It is found in nature and often in waste from nuclear reactors. It is considered one of the more hazardous components of nuclear wastes. • Strontium-90 has a half-life of 29.1 years, meaning it takes 29.1 years for half of a sample of strontium-90 to decay by emitting radioactive particles. Credit: eHow What is strontium-90? Credit: Ricarose Roque