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Radioactivity

Atomic Theory, Isotopes, and Radioactive Decay

Radioactivity is the release of high-energy particles


and rays emitted by radioactive sources.
Natural background radiation is the stream of high-energy, fast-moving
particles or waves that is found in our environment
Radiation is the high energy rays and particles emitted by radioactive
sources
For example: light is a form of radiation that is visible to humans

Isotopes
Reminder: Mass number = # protons + # neutrons
Isotopes are different atoms of a particular element that have the same
number of protons but different numbers of neutrons.
The mass number is an average that represents the sum of an atoms protons
and neutrons
Standard Atomic Notation or nuclear symbol is written as follows:
Atomic Symbol

For example:

Potassium has three naturally occurring isotopes as follows:


Potassium-39
K
(20 neutrons) 93.26%
Potassium-40

(21 neutrons)

0.01%

Potassium-41

(22 neutrons)

6.73%

Radioactive Decay
Radioactive atoms emit radiation because their nuclei are unstable
These atoms gain stability by losing energy in the form of radiation
They undergo radioactive decay until they form stable non-radioactive atoms
of a different element
Atoms that are capable of radioactive decay are called radioisotopes
Types of Radiation
There are three types of radiation:
1. Alpha Radiation ()
2. Beta Radiation ()
3. Gamma Radiation ()
1.Alpha Radiation ()
Alpha particles are positively charged atomic particles
They are the largest of the three particle types, and consequently are the
slowest moving
These particles are not very penetrating and can be stopped by a piece of
paper
They have the same combination of particles as a helium atom, so we can
write the standard atomic notation as either:
He
or

Alpha particles have:


o Mass Number = 4
o Atomic Number = 2 , so
o Proton Number = 2
o Neutron Number = 2
o Electric charge of +2
Alpha decay is the emission of alpha particles from a nucleus
For example:
Ra

Rn
+
He
OR
Ra

(pic on page 295)


Rn
+

Note: We OMIT the charge when we write an alpha particle

2. Beta Radiation ()
Beta particles are electrons
They are the both lightweight and fast-moving, so they have a greater
penetrating power than alpha particles.
These particles can be blocked with a thin sheet of aluminum foil
The standard atomic notation is written:
e
OR

During beta decay a neutron changes into a proton and an electron which
shoots out of the particle
For example:
I

Xe
+

OR

Xe

(pic on page 296)


+
e

3.Gamma Radiation

Gamma radiation consists of high-energy, short wavelength radiation


Gamma radiation has the highest penetrating power and require thick blocks
of lead and concrete to stop
Gamma radiation has:
o No mass
o No charge
The standard Atomic Notation is:

Gamma decay is the redistribution of energy in the nucleus and consequently


it does not change the atomic number or mass of a nucleus
For example:
Ni*

Ni*
+

(Note: the * means that the nucleus has extra energy which is released as
gamma energy)
Many kinds of radioactive decay can release gamma rays
For example:
U

Th
+
He
+
2

EXCELLENT SUMMARY ON PAGE 298

Half-Life
Carbon Dating
All plants and animals have a consistent
ratio of carbon-12 to carbon 14 atoms
while alive.
After death the carbon 14 atoms decay at a consistent rate
Radiocarbon dating is the process of determining the age of an object by
measuring the amount of carbon-14 remaining in that object
We can use this process to go back 50 000 years !!
Rate of Radioactive Decay & Decay Curves
The half-life is constant for any radioactive isotope
It is the time required for half the nuclei in a sample to decay
For example: If strontium-90 has a half-life of 29 years then a 10 g sample
today will be 5.0 g in 29 years.
How much will be left after 58 years?
# of half-lives
0 initial
1

Elapsed Time % present


0
100%
29
50%

58

25%

87

12.5 %

116

6.25 %

Amount of Strontium-90
10.0 g
10.0 g x
10.0 g x
10.0 g x
10.0 g x

All radioactive decay rates follow a pattern called a


decay curve. For example:
Each type of radioactive isotope has a different decay
rate

Common Isotope Pairs


The isotope that undergoes decay is called the parent
isotope
The stable product is called the daughter isotope
Some examples: (pg. 307)

x
x

= 5.0 g
= 2.5 g

x = 1.25 g
= 0.625 g