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OBJ 1 – Radioactivity & Radioactive Decay. Chart of the Nuclides. General Layout Each nuclide occupies a square in a grid where Atomic number (Z) is plotted vertically Number of neutrons (N) is plotted horizontally Heavily bordered square at left side of each row gives Name Chemical symbol

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Chart of the nuclides
Chart of the Nuclides

  • General Layout

    • Each nuclide occupies a square in a grid where

      • Atomic number (Z) is plotted vertically

      • Number of neutrons (N) is plotted horizontally

    • Heavily bordered square at left side of each row gives

      • Name

      • Chemical symbol

      • Elemental Mass

      • Thermal neutron absorptions cross section

      • Resonance integral

Chart of the nuclides1
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Nuclides on diagonal running from upper left to lower right have same mass numbers, called isobars

  • Colors and shading used to indicate in chart squares used to indicate relative magnitude of

    • Half-lives

    • Neutron absorption properties

  • Four different colors used

    • Blue

    • Green

    • Yellow

    • Orange

Chart of the nuclides2
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Background color of upper half of square represents T1/2

  • Background color of lower half of square represents greater of the thermal neutron cross section or resonance integral

  • When nuclide is stable and thermal neutron cross section is small or unknown, entire square is shaded grey

  • Gray shading also used for unstable nuclides having T1/2 sufficiently long (>5E8 yrs) to have survived from the time they were formed

Chart of the nuclides3
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Some squares, such as 60Co, 115In, and 116In are divided

    • Occurs when nuclide has one or more isomeric or metastable states

    • Has same A and Z, but different nuclear and radioactive properties due to different energy states of the same nucleus

Chart of the nuclides4
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Nuclide Properties Displayed on the Chart

    • Chemical Element Names and Symbols

      • Same element names and symbols as used on the Periodic Table of the Elements

    • Atomic Weights and Abundances

      • Isotopic masses in AMUs are given for

        • Stable isotopes

        • Certain long-lived, naturally occurring radioactive isotopes

        • Nuclides particle decay becomes a prominent mode (>10%)

Chart of the nuclides5
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Isotopic Abundance

    • Values on chart given in atom percent

    • Specified for 288 nuclides (266 stable and 22 radioactive)

  • Half-lives

    • Half-life listed below nuclide symbol and mass number

    • Units used

      • ps picoseconds (1E-12 s)

      • ns nanoseconds (1E-9 s)

      • µs microseconds (1E-6 s)

      • ms milliseconds (1E-3 s)

      • s seconds

      • m minutes

      • h hours

      • d days

      • a years

Chart of the nuclides6
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Background Color of Chart Square Upper Half

    • 1 day to 10 day  orange

    • >10 days to 100 days  yellow

    • >100 days to 10 years  green

    • >10 years to 5E8 years  blue

  • Background Color of Chart Square Lower Half

    • Refers to thermal neutron cross section or resonance integral

Chart of the nuclides7
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Major Modes of Decay and Decay Energies

    • α alpha particle

    • β- beta minus (negatron)

    • β+ beta plus (positron)

    • γ gamma ray

    • n neutron

    • p proton

    • d deuteron

    • t triton

    • εelectron capture

    • IT isomeric transition

    • e- conversion electron

    • β-β- double beta decay

    • cluster decay

    • D delayed radiation

Chart of the nuclides8
Chart of the Nuclides

  • To understand decay schemes and energies, look at chart square for 38Cl

    • β-energies listed on 1st line in order of abundance

    • γ energies listed on 2nd line in order of abundance

  • Particle energies always given in MeV

  • γ energies always given in keV

Chart of the nuclides9
Chart of the Nuclides

  • When more than one decay mode possible, modes listed on chart in order of abundance or intensity

  • Different modes of beta decay (ε, β+, β-) appear on separate lines if intensity of one of the decay modes is <10% absolute intensity

  • Conversely, appear on same line if intensities of both >10% absolute intensity with most abundant listed first.

Chart of the nuclides10
Chart of the Nuclides

  • When branching decay occurs by both β- and β+ and/or ε, and each decay is accompanied by γemission, format shown in 146Pm square is used

  • Metastable (or isomeric) state frequently decays to ground by IT γemission, followed by one or more γ in cascade

  • Internal conversion is process resulting from interaction between nucleus and extra-nuclear electrons. Nuclear excitation energy xfr’d to orbital electron (usually K shell) and is indicated by e-

Chart of the nuclides11
Chart of the Nuclides

  • Delayed γemission indicated by symbol D.

    • When daughter product has too short of a half-life to have its own spot on the chart or half-life is much shorter than that of the parent nuclide, γenergy is listed with the parent

Radiation classifications
Radiation Classifications

  • Introduction

    • All radiation possesses energy

      • Inherent — electromagnetic

      • Kinetic — particulate

    • Interaction results in some or all of energy being transferred to surrounding medium

      • Scattering

      • Absorption

Radiation classifications1
Radiation Classifications

  • Ionizing or Non-Ionizing

    • Non-Ionizing

      • Visible light

      • Radio and TV

    • Ionizing

  • Particulate or Photonic

    • Particulate

      • α

      • β

      • n

    • Electromagnetic

      • γ

      • x

Radiation classifications2
Radiation Classifications

  • Directly or Indirectly Ionizing

    • Directly Ionizing

      • Possesses charge

      • Does not need physical contact

    • Indirectly Ionizing

      • Does not have charge

      • Needs physical contact

Radiation characteristics
Radiation Characteristics

  • Alpha (α)

    • Charge – +2

    • Range – 2-4 in. (5 – 10 cm.)

    • Shielding

      • Paper

      • Dead skin

    • Hazard – Internal

    • Target Organ – Anything internal (living tissue)

Radiation characteristics1
Radiation Characteristics

  • Beta (β)

    • Charge

      • Negatron (β-) – -1

      • Positron (β+) – +1

    • Range

      • Average – ≈ 10 ft.

      • Energy Specific – ≈ 10 – 12 ft./MeV

    • Shielding

      • Plastic

      • Wood

      • Al, Cu

    • Hazard – Internal

    • Target Organ

      • External – eye (lens)

      • Living tissue

Low Z

Radiation characteristics2
Radiation Characteristics

  • Gamma (γ) and X-Ray (x)

    • Charge – 0

    • Range – ≈ Infinite

    • Shielding

      • Pb

      • DU

    • Hazard – Internal

    • Target Organ – Living tissue

High Z

Radiation characteristics3
Radiation Characteristics

  • Neutron (n)

    • Charge – 0

    • Range – ≈ Infinite

    • Shielding

      • H20

      • Concrete

      • Plastic

    • Hazard – Internal

    • Target Organ – Living tissue


Energy transfer mechanisms
Energy Transfer Mechanisms

  • Ionization

    • Removing bound e- from electrically neutral atom or molecule by adding sufficient energy to allow it to overcome its BE

    • Atom has net positive charge

    • Creates ion pair consisting of negatively charged electron and positively charged atom or molecule

Energy transfer mechanisms1
Energy Transfer Mechanisms

Ionizing Particle



Negative Ion




Positive Ion



Energy transfer mechanisms2
Energy Transfer Mechanisms

  • Excitation

    • Process that adds sufficient energy to e- such that it occupies higher energy state than lowest bound energy state

    • Electron remains bound to atom

    • No ions produced, atom remains neutral

    • After excitation, excited atom eventually loses excess energy when e- in higher energy shell falls into lower energy vacancy

    • Excess energy liberated as X-ray, which may escape from the material, but usually undergoes other absorptive processes

Energy transfer mechanisms3





Energy Transfer Mechanisms















Energy transfer mechanisms4
Energy Transfer Mechanisms

  • Bremsstrahlung

    • Radiative energy loss of moving charged particle as it interacts with matter through which it is moving

    • Results from interaction of high-speed, charged particle with nucleus of atom via electric force field

    • With negatively charged electron, attractive force slows it down, deflecting from original path

    • KE particle loses emitted as x-ray

    • Production enhanced with high-Z materials (larger coulomb forces) and high-energy e- (more interactions occur before all energy is lost)

Energy transfer mechanisms5
Energy Transfer Mechanisms
















Directly ionizing radiation
Directly Ionizing Radiation

  • Charged particles don’t need physical contact with atom to interact

    • Coulombic forces act over a distance to cause ionization and excitation

    • Strength of these forces depends on:

      • Particle energy (speed)

      • Particle charge

      • Absorber density and atomic number

  • Coulombic forces significant over distances > atomic dimensions

  • For all but very low physical density materials, KE loss for e- continuous because of Coulombic force

Directly ionizing radiation1
Directly Ionizing Radiation

  • Alpha Interactions

    • Mass approximately 8K times > electron

    • Travels approximately 1/20th speed of light

    • Because of mass, charge, and speed, has high probability of interaction

    • Does not require particles touching—just sufficiently close for Coulombic forces to interact

    • Energy gradually dissipated until α captures two e- and becomes a He atom

    • α from given nuclide emitted with same energy, consequently will have approximately same range in a given material

Directly ionizing radiation2
Directly Ionizing Radiation

  • Beta Interactions

    • Interaction between β- or β+ and an orbital e- is interaction between 2 charged particles of similar mass

    • βs of either charge lose energy in large number of ionization and/or excitation events, similar to α

    • Due to smaller size/charge, lower probability of interaction in given medium; consequently, range is >>α of comparable energy

    • Because β’s mass is small compared with that of nucleus

      • Large deflections can occur, particularly when low-energy βs scattered by high-Z elements (high positive charge on the nucleus)

      • Consequently, β usually travels tortuous, winding path in an absorbing medium

    • β may have Bremsstrahlung interaction resulting in X-rays

Indirectly ionizing radiation
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • No charge

  • γand n

  • No Coulomb force field

  • Must come sufficiently close for physical dimensions to contact particles to interact

Indirectly ionizing radiation1
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Small probability of interacting with matter – Why?

    • Doesn’t continuously lose energy by constantly interacting with absorber

    • May move “through” many atoms or molecules before contacting electron or nucleus

    • Probability of interaction depends on its energy and absorber’s density and atomic number

    • When interactions occur, produces directly ionizing particles that cause secondary ionizations

Indirectly ionizing radiation2
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Gamma absorption

    • γ and x-rays differ only in origin

    • Name used to indicate different source

      • γs originate in nucleus

      • X-rays are extra-nuclear (electron cloud)

    • Both have 0 rest mass, 0 net electrical charge, and travel at speed of light

    • Both lose energy by interacting with matter via one of three major mechanisms

Indirectly ionizing radiation3
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Photoelectric Effect

    • All energy is lost – happens or doesn’t

    • Photon imparts all its energy to orbital e-

    • Because pure energy, photon vanishes

    • Probable only for photon energies < 1 MeV

    • Energy imparted to orbital e- in form of KE, overcoming attractive force of nucleus, usually causing e- to leave orbit with great velocity

    • Most photoelectrons are inner-shell e-

Indirectly ionizing radiation4
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • High-velocity e-, called photoelectron

    • Directly ionizing particle

    • Typically has sufficient energy to cause secondary ionizations

  • Most photoelectrons are inner-shell electrons

Indirectly ionizing radiation5
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation



Gamma Photon

(< 1 MeV)














Indirectly ionizing radiation6
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Compton Scattering

    • Partial energy loss for incoming photon

    • Dominant interaction for most materials for photon energies 200 keV – 5 MeV

    • Photon continues with less energy in different direction to conserve momentum

    • Probability of Compton interaction  with distance from nucleus — most Compton electrons are valence electrons

    • Beam of photons may be randomized in direction and energy, so that scattered radiation may appear around corners and behind shields where there is no direct line of sight to source

    • Probability of Compton interaction  with distance from nucleus — most Compton electrons are valence electrons

Indirectly ionizing radiation7
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Pair Production

    • Occurs when all photon energy is converted to mass (occurs only in presence of strong electric field, which can be viewed as catalyst)

    • Strong electric fields found near nucleus and are stronger for high-Z materials

    • γ disappears in vicinity of nucleus and β-- β+ pair appears

    • Will not occur unless γ> 1.022 MeV

    • Any energy > 1.022 MeV shared between the β--β+ pair as KE

    • Probability < photoelectric and Compton interactions because photon must be close to the nucleus

Indirectly ionizing radiation8
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation



Gamma Photon

(E > 1.022 MeV)

















0.511 MeV Photons



Indirectly ionizing radiation9
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Neutron Interactions

    • Free, unbound n unstable and disintegrates by β- emission with half-life of ≈ 10.6 minutes

    • Resultant decay product is p+, which eventually combines with free e- to become H atom

    • n interactions energy dependent –classified based on KE

Indirectly ionizing radiation10
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Classifying according to KE important from two standpoints:

    • Interaction with the nucleus differs with n energy

    • Method of detecting and shielding against various classes are different

  • n detection relatively difficult due to:

    • Lack of ionization along their paths

    • Negligible response to externally applied electric, magnetic, or gravitational fields

    • Interact primarily with atomic nuclei, which are extremely small

Indirectly ionizing radiation11
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Slow Neutron Interactions

    • Radiative Capture

      • Radiative capture with γ emission most common for slow n

      • Reaction often results in radioactive nuclei

      • Process is called neutron activation

Indirectly ionizing radiation12
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Charged Particle Emission

    • Target atom absorbs a slow n, which  its mass and internal energy

    • Charged particle then emitted to release excess mass and energy

    • Typical examples include (n,p), (n,d), and (n,α). For example

Indirectly ionizing radiation13
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Fission

    • Typically occurs following slow n absorption by several of the very heavy elements

    • Nucleus splits into two smaller nuclei, called primary fission products or fission fragments

    • Fission fragments usually undergo radioactive decay to form secondary fission product nuclei

    • There are some 30 different ways fission may take place with the production of about 60 primary fission fragments

Indirectly ionizing radiation14
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Fast Neutron Interactions

    • Scattering

      • Free n continues to be free n following interaction

      • Dominant process for fast n

    • Elastic Scattering

      • Occurs when n strikes nucleus of approx. same mass

      • Neutron can xfer much of its KE to that, which recoils off with energy lost by n

      • No γ emitted by nucleus

      • Recoil nucleus can be knocked away from its e- and, being (+) charged, can cause ionization and excitation

Indirectly ionizing radiation16
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Inelastic Scattering

    • Occurs when n strikes large nucleus

      • n penetrates nucleus for short period of time

      • Xfers energy to nucleon in nucleus

      • Exits with small decrease in energy

    • Nucleus left in excited state, emitting γ radiation, which can cause ionization and/or excitation

Indirectly ionizing radiation17







Indirectly Ionizing Radiation








Indirectly ionizing radiation18
Indirectly Ionizing Radiation

  • Reactions in Biological Systems

    • Fast n lose energy in soft tissue largely by repeated scattering interactions with H nuclei

    • Slow 0n1 captured in soft tissue and release energy in one of two principal mechanisms:


(2.2 MeV)

(0.66 MeV)

Radioactivity and radioactive decay
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • Following a transformation, nucleus is usually more stable than it was, but not necessarily stable

  • Another transformation will take place by nucleus emitting radiation

  • Amount of energy given off and emission type depends on nucleus’ configuration immediately before transformation

  • As nucleus’ energy , nucleus disintegrates or decays

  • Called radioactive decay

    • Atom before decay—parent

    • Atom after decay—daughter

  • Steps from parent to daughter traced to stability called decay chain

Radioactivity and radioactive decay1
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • Parent-Daughter Relationships and Equilibrium

    • Produces daughter product and radiation is emitted

    • Daughter also produces radioactivity when it decays, as does each successive daughter until stability is reached

    • Activity contributed by the parent vs. daughters varies based on half-life of both parent and daughters

    • When activity production rate is same as product decay rate, equilibrium is said to exist

Radioactivity and radioactive decay2
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • Secular Equilibrium

    • Τ1/2,P >> Τ1/2,D (Parent half-life infinitely > daughter)

    • As parent activity , daughter  proportionately

    • During 10 half-lives of the daughter, essentially no parent decay takes place during secular equilibrium

    • Two conditions necessary

      • Parent must have Τ1/2much longer than any other nuclide in the series

      • Sufficiently long period of time must have elapsed to allow for in-growth of the decay products

Rule of Thumb

Secular equilibrium is reached in ≈ 6 daughter half-lives.

Radioactivity and radioactive decay4
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

Τ1/2 = 53 m

Τ1/2 = 15.3 m

Τ1/2 = 6.57 h

Radioactivity and radioactive decay5
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • Transient Equilibrium

    • Τ1/2,P > Τ1/2,D (Parent half-life > daughter, but not infinitely)

    • Daughter activity decays at same approx. rate as parent

    • Different way of saying – daughter atom formation rate = daughter atom decay rate

    • Same fractional decrease in parent and daughter activities

Rule of Thumb

Transient equilibrium is reached in ≈ 4 daughter half-lives.

Radioactivity and radioactive decay7
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • Transient—Τ1/2,P > Τ1/2,D, but not very long

Τ1/2 = 1.68 d

Τ1/2 = 12.75 d

Radioactivity and radioactive decay8
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

  • No Equilibrium

    • Τ1/2,P < Τ1/2,D

    • Parent activity decays at faster rate than daughter

    • Equilibrium is never reached

Radioactivity and radioactive decay10
Radioactivity and Radioactive Decay

Τ1/2 = 3.1 m

Τ1/2 = 27 m

Τ1/2 = 19.9 m

Τ1/2 = 23.3 y

Decay modes and emissions
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Alpha Decay (α)

    • With few exceptions, only relatively heavy nuclides decay by α emission

    • Essentially a helium nucleus (2 p+, 2 n)

    • Charge of +2

Decay modes and emissions2
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Beta (Negatron) Decay (β-)

    • High n:p ratio usually β- decays

    • n changed into p

    •  n:p ratio, results in β- emission

    • Have same mass as e-

    • Because n has been replaced by p, Z  1, but A remains unchanged

Decay modes and emissions3
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Because n has been replaced by p, Z  1, but A remains unchanged

  • Standard notation for β- decay is:

  • For example, 210Pb β- decays to produce 210Bi as follows:

Decay modes and emissions5
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Neutrinos and anti-neutrinos—neutral particles with negligible rest mass

  • Travel at speed of light and are non-interacting

  • Account for energy distribution among β+ (positrons) and β- (negatrons)

Decay modes and emissions6
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Nuclide having low n:p ratio) tends to decay by positron emission

  • Positron often mistakenly thought of as positive electron

  • In reality, positron is anti-particle of electron (has charge of +1)

  • β+ used to designate positrons

  • With positron emitters, parent nucleus changes p+ into n and emits a β+

  • Because p+ replaced by n, Z 1 and A remains unchanged

  • Neutrino also emitted during β+ emission

Decay modes and emissions7
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Standard notation for β+ decay is:

  • For example, 57Ni β+ decays to produce 57Co as follows:

Decay modes and emissions9
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Electron Capture (EC)

    • For radionuclides with low n:p ratio, another decay mode, known as EC, can occur

    • Nucleus captures e- (usually from K shell)

    • Could capture L-shell electron, but K-electron capture much more probable

    • Decay frequently referred to as K-capture

    • Can result in formation of Auger e-

      • In lieu of characteristic X-ray being emitted

      • Atom ejects bound e-

      • Auger e- are monoenergetic

Decay modes and emissions10
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Transmutation resembles positron emission

  • Electron combines with p+ to form a n, followed by neutrino emission

  • Electrons from higher energy levels fill vacancies left in inner, lower-energy shells

  • Excess energy emitted causes cascade of characteristic X-rays

Decay modes and emissions11
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Gamma Emission (γ)

    • Decay resulting in transmutation generally leaves nucleus in excited state

    • Nucleus can reach unexcited, or ground, state by emitting γ

    • Gammas are type of electromagnetic radiation—behave as small bundles or packets of energy, called photons, and travel at speed of light

Decay modes and emissions12
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • γ essentially the same as X-ray

    • γ usually higher energy (MeV); whereas, X-rays usually in keV range

    • Basic difference between γ and X-ray is origin—γ originate in nucleus, X‑rays originate in electron shells

    • General decay equation slightly different from others

  • Most decay reactions have γ emissions associated with them

  • Some decay by particulate emission with no γ emission

Decay modes and emissions13
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Isomeric Transition (IT)

    • Commonly occurs immediately after particle emission

    • Nucleus may remain in excited state for measurable period of time before dropping to ground state

    • Nucleus that remains excited known as isomer because it is in a metastable state

    • Differs in energy and behavior from other nuclei with the same Z and A

    • Generally achieves ground state by emitting delayed γ (usually > 10‑9 s)

Decay modes and emissions14
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Internal Conversion

    • An alternative isomeric mechanism to radiative transition

    • Excited nucleus of γ-emitting atom gets rid of excitation energy

    • Tightly bound e- (K or L) interacts with nucleus by absorbing Eexcitation and is ejected

    • Electron known as conversion electron

    • Distinguished from β- by energy

      • Conversion e-−monoenergetic

      • β-− spectrum of energies

Decay modes and emissions15
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Each radionuclide, artificial or natural, has characteristic decay pattern

  • Several aspects associated with pattern:

    • Decay modes

    • Emission types

    • Emission energies

    • Decay rate

Decay modes and emissions16
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • All nuclei of given radionuclide seeking stability decay in specific manner

    • 226Ra decays by α emission, accompanied by γ—only decay mode open to 226Ra

    • Some nuclides may decay with branching, where a choice of decay modes exists

    • Some nuclides may decay with branching, where a choice of decay modes exists

      • 57Ni, mentioned previously, decays 50% by EC (K capture) and 50% by β+ emission

    • Nuclides decay in constant manner by emission types, and emissions from each nuclide exhibit distinct energy picture

Decay modes and emissions17
Decay Modes and Emissions

  • Single Ra nucleus may disintegrate at once or wait 1000s of years before emitting an α

    • All that can be predicted with certainty is 1/2 of all 226Ra nuclei present will disintegrate in 1,622 years

    • Called the half-life

    • Half-lives vary greatly for naturally occurring radioisotopes

Natural decay series
Natural Decay Series

  • Natural Decay Series

    • Uranium, radium, and thorium occur in three natural decay series, headed by uranium-238, thorium-232, and uranium 235, respectively

    • In nature, in secular equilibrium

Natural decay series1
Natural Decay Series

  • Uranium-238 (Radon-222) (Radon)

Natural decay series2
Natural Decay Series

  • Uranium-235 (Radon-219) (Actinon)

Natural decay series3
Natural Decay Series

  • Thorium-232 (Radon-220) (Thoron)

Radioactive decay law
Radioactive Decay Law

  • Radioactive Decay Law

    • Decays at a fixed rate and is not a function of temperature, pressure, etc.

    • Half-life defined as amount of time it takes for activity to be reduced to 1/2 the original value

    • Occurs at an exponential rate

Radioactive decay law2
Radioactive Decay Law

  • Can be expressed as (½)n or e-λt.

  • When calculating half-life, units of time (t) must be the same time units as the half-life (Τ½)

  • Radioactive Decay Formula


  • Decay Constant (λ)

    • Equivalent to natural log of 2 (ln 2) divided by half-life (Τ1/2)

  • ad