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8: - ionising radiations can be detected using:

- a photographic film: e.g scientists working with radioactive materials wear a strip of
photographic film in a badge> filmed becomes fogged when exposed to certain
amount radiation (badges checked regularly to ensure safety limit for exposure to
ionising radiation not exceeded)
-a Geiger-Muller detector:
~glass tube with electrically conducting coating on inside surface, thin window made
of mica
~tube contains special mixture of gases at very low pressure
~electrode in middle of tube (electrically insulated from conductive coating)>
connected, via high value resistor, to a high-voltage supply
~ionising radiation enters tube> causes low pressure gas inside to form ions>
ions allow pulse of current to flow from electrode to conducting layer> detected by
an electronic circuit
~GM tube linked to counting circuit> counts how many ionising particles entered
GMD tube
~OR connected to rare meters> measure the number of ionising events per second
> measurement of radioactivity in becquerels> usually have loudspeaker output
> level of radioactivity indicated by rate of clicks produced

7.9 Sources of background radiation

-Radon gas/ Thoron gas- Radioactive decay products of one form of radioactive
uranium isotope in Earths rocks> seep out of radioactive rocks> dense gases so
build up in basement and foundation of buildings> buildings have membranes that
prevent radon passing into the building
-Rocks- contain radioactive uranium isotope
-Cosmic> violent nuclear reactions in supernovae produced very high energy
particles & cosmic rays that continuously bombard the Earth> Earths atmosphere
offers good protection
-Medical sources: radioactive tracers used in diagnosis of illness or radioactive
materials used to treat cancer (radiotherapy)
-Nuclear power stations> leak radioactive material into environment> usually
levels small (major incidents possible e.g. Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1989)
-Testing nuclear weapons> increase amounts of radio isotopes on Earth
-Sun> gives out low cosmic rays> Earths atmosphere offers good protection
-Carbon atoms in living things: breath in tiny amounts of radioactive C-14 (behaves
just like stable isotope C-12)
** Decay products: The elements formed as a result of a radioactive element
undergoing a series of decays
-Some parts of the earths crust have higher amounts of radioactive material>
background radiation produced this way varies from place to place
7.10 the activity of a radioactive source decreases over a period of time and is

measured in becquerels
* becquerel- unit of radioactivity: how many unstable nuclei are disintegrating per
-Radioactive decay random process> impossible to predict when a particular atom
will decay
-Previous measurements taken can be used to make predictions about what
percentage of unstable atoms in a sample will decay in a given time.
-Exponential decay: Rate of decay falls exponentially as time passes as there are
fewer remaining unstable nuclei to decay
-Graph on radioactivity less reliable as the number of unstable nuclei decreases
7.11/ 7.12 Half-life: the time taken for radioactivity to halve
-Half-life can be used to make predictions of the activity of the radioisotope at a later
-short-half life> suited to medical use> activity of a source will rapidly become
very small as the isotope decays quickly
-long-half life> isotope used in dating samples of organic material> activity will
become very difficult to measure accurately if it drops below a certain level
- The average time taken for the count rate detected by a Geiger counter to fall by
Measuring half-life:
-Use GM tube linked to rate meter
1) measure local background radiation, then subtract it from measurements taken
from sample so know the radiation produced by the sample itself> no false
readings taken
2) measure rate of decay (shown by count rate on rate meter) at regular intervals
(e.g. 20 minutes)
-rate of decay proportional to the amount of radioactive isotope present
7.13 Uses of radioactivity:
-Medical tracers:
- help identify diseased organisms
- radioactive tracer chemical compound that emits gamma radiation> swallowed or
injected> passed around body (through digestive system, veins arteries)>
penetrates body tissue and detected externally>traced using gamma ray camera
> computer converts reading to on-screen display to show were radiation coming
from> check if organs of body are working correctly
- different compounds used for different diagnostic task: e.g. iodine-123 absorbed by
thyroid gland same way as table form of iodine> isotope decays> emits
gamma radiation> gamma ray camera used to form clear image of thyroid gland;
- Technetium-99 used in medical imaging to identify medical problems in many parts of
body e.g. kidneys> swallowed> passed around patients body and emits
gamma radiation> traced using gamma ray camera> imaging techniques

enable doctors to produce 3D computer images of parts of a patients body

- short half-life important> activity of tracer decreases to very low level in a few days
> can use less of the radioactive source but still get a reading on detector
- alpha source useless (stopped by bodys tissues due to low penetrating power>
cannot detect externally using radioactive tracer) and harmful (strong ionising
power> harmful to body tissue)
-Sterilising using radiation:
- Irradiation: surgical instruments and other medical equipment placed close to
strongly ionising radiation sources (typically Gamma rayshigh penetrating
power) and packed in airtight bass to ensure they cannot be re-contaminated
before use. Radiation will penetrate the packaging and kill bacteria/ microorganisms without damaging equipment.
- Food products sterilised same way (placed near source of gamma radiation) to
ensure they are free of bacteria that will cause food to rot or food poisoning.
- Advantage of irradiation: - does not destroy vitamins in the food like other means
of killing bacteria such as high-temperature treatment
- Limitation of irradiation: - concern amongst public; - will not destroy any poisons
that bacteria may have already produced in the food before it is treated
-non-medical tracers:
- Gamma radiography: Source of gamma radiation placed on one side of object to be
scanned and gamma camera place on the other> examine contents of luggage
in airport.
F advantages: gamma rays more penetrating than X-rays> check imperfections in
wielded joins and flows in metal castings; unlike-ray sources, gamma sources can
be small and do not require a large power source or large cumbersome
- Gauging: Radioactive isotopes used to measure how much raw materials, or fuel are
stored in a storage vessel (large tanks, hoppers).
F E.g. coal absorbs large amount of radiation> reading on lower detector small &
upper part of hopper is empty> no radiation absorbed> upper detector high
reading. Depending on how much radiation is absorbed in upper or lower detector,
the amount of coal stored can be determined.
F E.g. Monitor thickness of plastic sheeting and film. Thicker sheet> greater amount
of radiation it absorbs. Monitor amount of radiation> closely control the thickness
of sheeting during manufacture.
F Advantages: No contact with material being gauged; coal dust may cause false
readings with an optical gauging system> gamma ray system still works properly
as coal dust is much less dense than coal
- Use radioactive tracers to trace and measure the flow of liquids and gases in
industrial processes: tiny amounts of radiation by radioisotopes can easily be
F complex piping systems e.g. heat exchangers in power stations, monitored for leaks

F can measure rate of dispersal of sewage

- Looking for leak in underground pipe:
1) squirt gamma source into pipe, let it flow along and trace with radioactive
2) most gamma radiation will penetrate through metal pipe while some are
3) crack in pipe> gamma source collect outside pipe> detector will show extra
high radioactivity at that point
- short-half life> not cause long-term hazard if radiation collects somewhere
- gamma radiation used due to high penetrating power> alpha or beta radiation
easily blocked
- High dose of gamma rays carefully focused on tumour > kills cancer cells
(minimise dose to rest of body)
-Chemicals containing radioactive isotopes used to target location of cancer in body
(to reduce damage done to healthy tissue)> emit alpha or beta radiation> kill
cancer cells
-short-range in body> only affect a small volume of tissue close to target
- e.g. radioisotope iodine-131 used for thyroid gland short-half life of 8 days and
decays by beta particle emission. The radiation kills cells near it.
- Smoke detectors:
-Ionisation chamber with small radioactive source producing alpha particles> ionise
O2 molecules in air> enable tiny current to pass between charged plates of
ionisation chamber.
-Smoke enters> smoke absorbs and neutralises O2 ions> current between
plates fall> change in current detected> set off alarm

the radioactive dating of archaeological specimens and rocks:

by measuring the amount of radioactive isotope left in a sample and knowing its
half-life, you can estimate the samples age
C-14 dating of plants, animals, humans: C-14 (half-life of approximately 5600
years) behaves like stable isotope C-12> absorbed by plants in process of
photosynthesis> C-14 makes up part of plant> enters food chain> animals,
humans have proportion of C-14 in bodies. Living things>C-14 continuously
replaced. Dead matter> C-14 replacement process stops> C-14 decays over
time, radioactivity decreases> measure proportion of C-14 atoms to C-12
atoms to estimate when organism died.
- LIMITATIONS: level of cosmic radiation reaching earth not entirely constant
(solved by: take variations of cosmic ray activity into account by testing
samples of a known age e.g. mummies); cannot be used to date samples
older than 50000-60000 years> after 10 half-lives the amount of C-14
remaining in samples too small to measure accurately

Rocks: for ones containing radioactive isotopes, measure the proportion of parent
isotope to stable daughter nuclei at end of decay chain to find out its age. e.g. in
igneous rock: decay series of potassium-40 ends with argon gas> trapped in
rock> measure proportion of argon to potassium- 40 to find age of rock.

7.14 Dangers of ionising radiation

-Low doses that do not kill cells> cause mutations in living organisms> may lead
to cancer if damaged cells divide uncontrollably and form a tumour
-Radiation enters body> collide with molecules in cells> collisions cause
ionisation> damage cells and tissue> could kill them> radiation sickness if
large part of body affected at the same time
To reduce risk: - workers in nuclear industry where thermoluminescent badges (give
out light when exposed to high levels of radiation) or photographic film badges
(become foggy) to indicate and monitor level of exposure to ensure it isnt above what
is considered safe
- Handle radioactive material remotely, by using thick gauntlets or electronically
controlled grippers
- Medical workers that use radioactive tracers wear lead aprons and stand behind lead
screens during procedures
- Industrial workers wear full protective suits (thick lead) to prevent tiny radioactive
particles being inhaled or lodging on the skin or under fingernails
- In school: handle with tongs at arms length, keep source pointed away from body,
avoid direct eye contact with it
- Those handling radioactive materials properly shielded by thick lead, thick concrete
or thick glass viewing panels.
- people in areas where exposure to natural radiation from rocks is high should ensure
they houses are properly ventilated to prevent a buildup of radon gas.
-Problems in disposal of radioactive waste: some have extremely long half-lives so
they remain active for a long time & continue to produce dangerous levels of ionising
radiation for thousands of years> leakage> danger
To reduce risk: Nuclear waste stored sealed, thick lead containers/ canisters to
ensure no radiation escapes. Then buried underground, in a geologically stable place
(no earthquakes to disturb canisters and cause leakage) and away from ground water
(could contaminate drinking water source, soil, plants, rivers). IN SCHOOLS: store
nuclear waste in lead containers to block most penetrating gamma rays; label
containers as radiation hazard; stored in a locked metal cabinet
**Alpha source little risk outside body as although they have the highest ionising
power, they have a low penetrating power and are blocked by the skin. HOWEVER
can be breathed in or taken in through eating food> high risk inside body>
damage done in very localised area
** Beta and gamma serious risk outside of body due to high penetrating power>
can penetrate into skin and flash> cause cell damage by ionisation. How much

damage depend on how much of their energy is absorbed by ionising atoms along
their path. Beta or gamma emitters absorbed by body presents less risk than alpha
emitters as they have lower ionising power.
7.15 Geiger and Marsden's experiments with gold foil and alpha particles
-Fired alpha particles at a very thin gold foil
-Zinc sulphide screen gives out scintillations when hit by alpha particle
results: MOST passed straight through gold foil; once in a while an alpha particle is
knocked off course (deflected); a very small proportion bounced off the gold foil
7.16 Rutherford's nuclear model of the atom
-how it accounts for the results of Geiger and Marsden's experiment
-most alpha particles passed straight through the gold foil> most of each gold atom
must be empty space
-rare rebound> alpha particle ran into something massive, as he knew atoms did
have mass, this means the mass must be concentrated in a very time volume at the
centre of the atom, which he called the nucleus
- few alpha particles deflected by much> nucleus small
-deflections and rebounds due to positive charges on alpha particles being repelled
by positive charges in gold nuclei (protons)> nucleus positive
-analysis of G & Ms experiment gave evidence for the existence of the nucleus &
allowed R to estimate size of nucleus
-the factors which affect the deflection of alpha particles by a nucleus
-speed of alpha particle> faster> deflected less (through smaller angles)
-nuclear charge> nucleus strongly positive (higher atomic number)> alpha
particle more strongly repelled> deflection more
-how close the alpha particle gets to the positively charged nucleus> passes
closer> deflected more
7.17/ 7.18/7.19 A nucleus of U-235 can be split (the process of a fission) by colliding
with a neutron. This process releases energy in the form of kinetic energy of the
fission products.
The fission of U-235 products produces two daughter nuclei and a small number of
neutrons. A chain reaction can be set up if the neutrons produced by one fission
strike other U-235 nuclei.
- Controlled :U-235 used as a fuel in nuclear reactor: in fission reaction, slow-moving
neutron absorbed by U-235> forms unstable U-236> splits apart> decay into
2 daughter nuclei (carry away most energy produced by fission reaction as kinetic
energy) + gamma radiation + 3 neutrons that collide with more U-235> process
repeats> chain reaction starts> daughter nuclei high KE so collide with other

atoms> converting g KE to heat energy> temperature rises> control rods

ensure controlled chain reaction so heat released over long period of time> CO2
pumped through reactor to carry away heat generated & passed through heat
exchanger to heat water> steam produced drive turbines to turn generators>
generate electricity
- Uncontrolled: nuclear explosion
- Enriched uranium: U-238 with a higher proportion of U-238 than is found in natural
reserves of uranium. The reactor core contains fuel rods of enriched uranium.
7.20 when the fission process is used as an energy source to generate electricity
-boron or cadmium control rods: absorb neutrons> take them out of fission process
> ensure chain reaction inside is controlled/ limit rate of fission
raised out of reactor core> rate of fission increases> speed up chain reaction>
heat produced at greater rate
lowered into core> rate of fission decreases as more neutrons absorbed> slows
down chain reaction> heat produced at a lower ratefully inserted to core> chain
reaction stopped
-graphite moderators: absorb some of the KE of the neutrons to slow them down as
slow neutrons more easily absorbed by U-235> sustain a chain reaction