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Conservation of energy and momentum often results in energy transfer to a less massive object in a collision. This was discussed in detail in Work, Energy, and Energy Resources , for example.

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. More quantitatively, the change in momentum Δ p size 12{Δp} {} given to a particle in the material is Δ p = F Δ t , where F size 12{F} {} is the force the α , β , or γ exerts over a time Δ t size 12{Δt} {} . The smaller the charge, the smaller is F size 12{F} {} and the smaller is the momentum (and energy) lost. Since the speed of alphas is about 5% to 10% of the speed of light, classical (non-relativistic) formulas apply.

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, given classically by 1 2 mv 2 size 12{ { {1} over {2} } ital "mv" rSup { size 8{2} } } {} . 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 (most at relativistic speeds), 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)

Phet explorations: beta decay

Watch beta decay occur for a collection of nuclei or for an individual nucleus.

Beta Decay

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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Questions & Answers

what is temperature
Adeleye Reply
temperature is the measure of degree of hotness or coldness of a body. measured in kelvin
a characteristic which tells hotness or coldness of a body
Average kinetic energy of an object
average kinetic energy of the particles in an object
A measure of the quantity of heat contained in an object which arises from the average kinetic energy of the constituent particles of that object. It can be measured using thermometers. It has a unit of kelvin in the thermodynamic scale and degree Celsius in the Celsius scale.
Mass of air bubble in material medium is negative. why?
Hrithik Reply
a car move 6m. what is the acceleration?
Umaru Reply
depends how long
What is the simplest explanation on the difference of principle, law and a theory
Kym Reply
how did the value of gravitational constant came give me the explanation
Varun Reply
how did the value of gravitational constant 6.67×10°-11Nm2kg-2
A steel ball is dropped onto a hard floor from a height of 1.50 m and rebounds to a height of 1.45 m. (a) Calculate its velocity just before it strikes the floor.
Kris Reply
0.5m* mate.
0.05 I meant.
Guess your solution is correct considering the ball fall from 1.5m height initially.
How can we compare different combinations of capacitors?
Prakash Reply
find the dimension of acceleration if it's unit is ms-2
Happiness Reply
b=-2 ,a =1
M^0 L^1T^-2
what is botany
it is a branch of science which deal with the study of plants animals and environment
what is work
Sunday Reply
a boy moving with an initial velocity of 2m\s and finally canes to rest with a velocity of 3m\s square at times 10se calculate it acceleration
6.6 lol 😁😁
show ur work
sorry..the answer is -10
your question is wrong
If the boy is coming to rest then how the hell will his final velocity be 3 it'll be zero
re-write the question
men i -10 isn't correct.
using v=u + at
ya..1/10 is very correct..
how did the value 6.67×10°-11Nm2kg2 came tell me please
Work is the product of force and distance
what is longitudinal wave
Badmus Reply
A longitudinal wave is wave which moves parallel or along the direction of propagation.
longitudinal wave in liquid is square root of bulk of modulus by density of liquid
Is British mathematical units the same as the United States units?(like inches, cm, ext.)
Nina Reply
We use SI units: kg, m etc but the US sometimes refer to inches etc as British units even though we no longer use them.
Thanks, just what I needed to know.
What is the advantage of a diffraction grating over a double slit in dispersing light into a spectrum?
Uditha Reply
can I ask questions?
Boniface Reply
hello guys
when you will ask the question
anybody can ask here
is free energy possible with magnets?
you could construct an aparatus that might have a slightly higher 'energy profit' than energy used, but you would havw to maintain the machine, and most likely keep it in a vacuum, for no air resistance, and cool it, so chances are quite slim.
calculate the force, p, required to just make a 6kg object move along the horizontal surface where the coefficient of friction is 0.25
Yes ask
if a man travel 7km 30degree east of North then 10km east find the resultant displacement
Ajali Reply
disagree. Displacement is the hypotenuse length of the final position to the starting position. Find x,y components of each leg of journey to determine final position, then use final components to calculate the displacement.
1.The giant star Betelgeuse emits radiant energy at a rate of 10exponent4 times greater than our sun, where as it surface temperature is only half (2900k) that of our sun. Estimate the radius of Betelgeuse assuming e=1, the sun's radius is s=7*10exponent8metres
James Reply
2. A ceramic teapot (e=0.20) and a shiny one (e=0.10), each hold 0.25 l of at 95degrees. A. Estimate the temperature rate of heat loss from each B. Estimate the temperature drop after 30mins for each. Consider only radiation and assume the surrounding at 20degrees
Practice Key Terms 8

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