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Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

Radiation – Properties, Isotopes, Half-Life, Types, Applications and Hazards!

By the end of this booklet, you should know these

key terms:
electromagnetic spectrum alpha radiation half-life nuclear fusion
visible spectrum beta radiation background radiation nuclear fission
electromagnetic wave gamma radiation ionizing radiation chain reaction
wavelength Geiger counter cancer nuclear reactor
frequency isotopes daughter isotope moderator
electromagnetic spectrum radioactive decay parent isotope critical mass
radioactive nuclear transmutation X-ray radiographs Albert Einstein
nuclear force Henri Becquerel Marie Curie nuclear equation
· _RADIATION__has numerous forms: e.g. sunlight, the heat from your hand, X-rays, and uranium bombs
all produced different kinds of radiation.
· It takes the form of_ELECTROMAGNETIC_ __WAVES_. This includes the light we see with our eyes
(called the ___VISIBLE__SPECTRUM__ , which includes all ___COLOURS__) plus some invisible types of
radiation (radio & TV signals, microwaves, infrared (better known as heat), ultraviolet, X-rays, and
cosmic rays).
· Energy can be transferred from place to place in the form of disturbances called__WAVES__. There are
different types of waves, but all waves have some things in common. FIGURE 1
· _AMPLITUDE_____________: the distance from the
midpoint of the wave to the trough or crest

· _WAVELENGTH_ (l): the distance between two successive crests

· _FREQUENCY_: the number of crests that pass a given point per unit time (equals the number of
"cycles" per second). Measured in Hertz (Hz)
· The__ENERGY_ of an electromagnetic wave is related to its__FREQUENCY__. As the frequency of the
electromagnetic radiation increases, so does its energy. That is why X-rays and gamma rays, which have
a high frequency and energy (and short wavelength) are dangerous to living things; their waves have so
much energy they can penetrate deeply and can break molecules apart.
· Electromagnetic waves all move at the _SPEED_of _LIGHT_("c" = _3.0X108 m/s_ (about 1.1 billion
· The__ELECTROMAGNETIC_ __SPECTRUM_ is shown below in Table 1. The sun emits all of these waves,
but we only see a small portion (called the__VISIBLE_ __SPECTRUM___). Colour is simply different
__WAVELENGTHS__ of light.

T.V./R microwaves infrared visible U.V. X-Rays gamma rays
Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

¬longer wavelengths 750 nm 400 nm shorter wavelengths®

¬lower frequency higher frequency®
¬lower energy higher energy®
Table 1 – The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Review Questions
1. How does the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation change as the frequency increases?
Wavelength decreases as frequency increases.

2. What happens to the energy carried by a wave as a wavelength decreases?

Energy increases as wavelength decreases.

3. Which type of radiation has the longer wavelength? Circle your choice.
a) AM radio or FM radio

b) TV broadcast signals or microwave radiation

c) X-rays or blue light

4. Which type of radiation has higher energy? Circle your choice.

a) Infrared light or ultraviolet light

b) Aircraft radio waves or shortwave radio

c) Gamma rays or green light

5. Are radio waves generally associated with (circle your choice)

a) High frequency waves or low frequency waves

b) High energy waves or low energy waves

c) Visible radiation or invisible radiation

Why do some element’s isotopes have radioactive properties?

· Recall that in an atom’s __NUCLEUS__ there are positively charged protons and neutrons (with no
charge). Why don't the positive charges repel each other and cause the nucleus to break up? The
reason is that the nucleus is held together by a_FORCE__ called the _STRONG____ __NUCLEAR__
__FORCE__ , which is very powerful but only exerts its effect over a very short range (i.e. the size of the
nucleus). There is also a force called the __WEAK__ __NUCLEAR__ __FORCE___(which is actually a
form of electromagnetic force) that is involved in the radioactive decay of some atoms. Radioactivity is
not at all dependent on the atomic or molecular structure: it a purely nuclear phenomenon. The only
thing that is relevant is the structure of the nucleus. Some arrangements are _UNSTABLE_ for a variety
of reasons a full understanding of which requires fairly advanced quantum theory. What you need to
remember is that some ratios or arrangements of protons and neutrons in an element’s isotopes are
inherently unstable and spontaneously __DECAY_ in a variety of ways to more stable nuclei.
Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

· In 1896, _HENRI_ __BECQUEREL__ (1852-1908) discovered that some atoms have nuclei that are
unstable and give off several types of radiations.
· __MARIE___ ___CURIE____ (1867-1934) took Becquerel's work a few steps further, conducting her
own experiments on uranium rays. Her experiments and theories lead to her becoming the first person
to win two ___NOBEL___ Prizes (in Physics and Chemistry) and created the field of atomic physics. Curie
herself coined the word radioactivity to describe the phenomena she studied. Therefore, atoms that
have this property are said to be _RADIOACTIVE__.
· A radioactive element is unstable and will undergo__RADIOACTIVE_ __DECAY___ in which it will give
off radiations from its nuclei. There are three types of _RADIOACTIVE_ __EMISSIONS___ that can be
emitted by a nucleus (see Figure 2):
1. ___ALPHA___ (a- rays): heaviest but least penetrating. Like a helium
alpha ray
gamma ray

beta ray

2. ____BETA____ (b-rays): high energy electrons traveling at high speed.

3. ___GAMMA____ (d-rays): high energy electromagnetic rays (like x-rays but can have even more energy.
Penetrate the _FURTHEST_.
We will learn more about these types of radioactive emissions later.
Decay will continue until finally an element is formed that is __STABLE__.

· The__ATOMIC___ __NUMBER___ of an element is, by definition, the number of protons in its nucleus. If
the number of protons changes (through radioactive decay, for example), the atom will have a different
number of protons, and will have different characteristics, and will therefore not be the same element
any more. Therefore, the atomic number of an element can never change, because if it did, it would be a
different element.
· Recall that__NEUTRONS__ have no electric charge. Some elements have different numbers of neutrons.
Since the neutrons have no charge, they don't affect the basic characteristics of the element, though they
contribute to its atomic mass. The __MASS__ __NUMBER__of an element is the number of protons and
neutrons in its nucleus. This number can change, as it is possible for the same element to have different
numbers of neutrons. Atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons (and
therefore different mass numbers) are called_ISOTOPES____.
For example, there are 3 isotopes of CARBON:
6 C
6 protons, 6 neutrons

Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

6 C
6 protons, 7 neutrons
6 C
6 protons, 8 neutrons

· Carbon-12 is by far the most _COMMON_of the carbon isotopes. It is stable and stays the same.
· Carbon-14 is radioactive and is used for finding the age of such things as Egyptian mummies. It
undergoes radioactive decay to form nitrogen.

Isotope Name Writing and Notation

· You may have noticed that when writing the name of an isotope, such as _CARBON-12_above, that it is
important to write the name of the element followed by its mass number.
· Isotope notation, also known as nuclear notation, is also important to learn because it allows us to use a
visual symbol to easily determine an isotope's mass number, atomic number, and to determine the
number of neutrons and protons in the nucleus without having to use a lot of words. See Figure 3.

FIGURE 3 – Isotope Notation

Example 1: What is the isotopic notation for the isotope carbon-14?
From the periodic table, we see that the atomic number (number of protons) for the element carbon is 6.
The name carbon-14 tells us that this isotope's mass number is 14. The chemical symbol for carbon is C.
Now write the isotopic notation for carbon-14.

We can determine the number of neutrons as 14−6=8 neutrons.

Example 2. Given the isotopic notation , identify the following:

a) Name of the isotope titanium-48
b) Mass number 48
c) Atomic number 22
d) Number of protons 22
e) Number of neutrons. 48-22=26


Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

· As was mentioned above, decay will continue with alpha, beta, and gamma rays being emitted until finally
an element is formed that is not radioactive i.e. it is _STABLE_.
· A _PARENT_ isotope is the unstable isotope that undergoes decay while the stable product of this decay
is called a _DAUGHTER_ isotope.
· Each parent is paired with a specific daughter isotope. For example, carbon-12 is the daughter of carbon-
14 (the parent isotope). The production of daughter from parent can be a direct reaction or the result of a
series of decays
· Radioactivity can be used to measure time because the rate of decay is very __STEADY_ and happens at a
___CONSTANT_ ____RATE__so it can be used like a __CLOCK__ (indeed, the most accurate clocks use
radioactivity to measure time).
· The term__HALF_LIFE_ refers to the time it takes for half of the atoms in a radioactive sample to convert
to the stable end product.
· A half-life is a measure of the __RATE__ of __RADIOACTIVE__ ___DECAY___ for a given __ISOTOPE__.
· This graph shows the decay of a 16 g sample of
Radioactive Decay of Thorium-234
Thorium-234. It has a half-life of about__24
DAYS__. So in about 24 days, if you started with 16
_16_grams, you would have_8__ grams. In 14
__48__ days you would have _4__ grams, and so 12
Grams Th 8
0 50 100 150

· Radioactive decay cannot be seen with the naked eye or normal microscopes since the radiations are so
tiny or invisible, so we have a machine called a__GEIGER________ ___COUNTER__ that can detect

Types of Radioactive Decay and Nuclear Equations

· Again, there are 3 main types of emissions from nuclei, and so there are 3 types of radioactive decay.
Note, things do get more complex if you study Physics in senior grades!

Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

1. _ALPHA_ DECAY: the nucleus emits an alpha particle (two protons, two neutrons) and becomes a new,
lighter element. E.g. Uranium-238 decays to Thorium-234 and Helium-4. A new nucleus (Thorium-234) is
thus formed. This new nucleus is called the_DECAY__ ___PRODUCT_. When a nucleus changes to another
type of nucleus, it is called a _NUCLEAR__ ____TRANSMUTATION__.

238 4 234
U ® He  Th
92 2 90

2. _BETA_ DECAY: the nucleus emits a beta particle (high-energy electron). This happens when a neutron
changes into a proton plus an electron (notice how the charges balance: neutrons can be thought of as
being made of a proton and an electron). When the nucleus loses the electron, it loses one of its
neutrons, but "gains" a proton. As a result, the atomic number__INCREASES___ by _ONE__. This also is
a nuclear transmutation. This is what happens to carbon-14 when it decays:

3. _GAMMA_ DECAY: Since gamma rays are not particles, when a parent nuclei undergoes gamma
decay, it retains the same number of protons and neutrons. The nucleus just loses some energy, and
therefore becomes more STABLE__. An asterix is used to show excess energy in the unstable isotope.

Review Questions
1. Explain the meaning of the following terms;
a) Radioactive decay
Process where particles and energy are released from an unstable nucleus

b) Atomic number
Number of protons in the nucleus of an atom

c) Mass number
Total number of particles in an atom (protons and neutrons)

d) Isotope
Atoms of the same element that differ in the number of neutrons they possess

e) Decay products
Particles or energy produced when an atom undergoes nuclear decay

f) Half-life
Length of time it takes for half the nuclei in a radioactive sample to decay

Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

2. Each of the following describes a characteristic of one or more decay products (alpha, beta and/or
gamma). State which type(s) of decay each one applies to.
a) High speed particle beta
b) High energy wave gamma
c) Positively charged alpha
d) Negatively charged beta
e) No charge gamma
f) Penetrates lead gamma
g) Penetrates human skin beta and gamma
h) Stopped by paper alpha
i) Helium nucleus alpha
j) Same mass as an electron beta
3. Identify each of the following nuclear equations as alpha, beta or gamma.
90Th  2 He
238 234 4
a) 92 U ______A_______
12 Mg * 24
12 Mg + 0
0 ᵞ ______G________
c) 14
6 C 14
7 N 0
-1 e ______B________
d) 227
88 Ra 227
89 Ac  0
1 e ______B_______
e) 226
88 Ra 222
86 Rn  24He ______A_______
f) 209
82 Pb 209
83 Bi  0
-1 e ______B________

20 Ca * 42
20 Ca  0
0 ᵞ ______G________

26 Fe * 58
26 Fe  0
0 ᵞ _______G_______
i) 225
89 Ac 221
87 Fr  24He ______A________
j) 234
90 Th 234
91 Pa  -10e _______B_______

The Hazards of Radiation

· You are always being bombarded by radiation. You have radioactive atoms in your ___BODY__, for
example, and ~250,000 of these decay in your body every minute. Likewise, you are being hit by
radiation from space (cosmic rays) and in the __WATER___, ___SOIL___ and food you eat. The sum total
of this "natural" radiation is known as__NATURAL__ _BACKGROUND__ __RADIATION__. You can't avoid
· Alpha, beta, gamma radiation as well as UV light and X-Rays are_HAZARDOUS_. They can disrupt
molecules by knocking electrons out of their orbits, forming __IONS_ (atoms that have lost or gained
electrons). These types of radiation are therefore called_IONIZING_ _RADIATION_.
· Ionizing radiation hurts cells that are dividing the most (such as cells in the intestine, bone marrow, scalp,
and in growing children). A large dose of radiation can cause "__RADIATION_ __SICKNESS__" by affecting
these cells. Nausea, diarrhea, blood changes are some of the symptoms.
· If the radiation affects the cell's DNA (which contains the instructions for cell division in it, among other
things), it can lead to_CANCER___. This may not happen for years after the exposure. e.g. skin cancer
from a severe sunburn may not develop until years after the sunburn.
Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

· The average person should get no more than _0.005 Sv_(Sieverts) PER YEAR. A chest X-ray gives about
0.0001 Sv (i.e. 50 chest X rays would be give a year's worth of radiation).
· Under 0.25 Sv, there are no noticeable effects. Exposures above 1 Sv damages blood-forming cells.
Exposures above_5_ Sv (such as the radiation after an atomic bomb is dropped) will _KILL_ a person
within a period of days or weeks.
· You should_AVOID__ radiation whenever possible. Use _SUNSCREEN_to block UV. If you work around
radiation, you must be protected by_LEAD_ __SHIELDS___.

Applications of Radiation
· X-Rays in __MEDICINE_(X-Rays pass easily through flesh but not bone, so they will show where bones are
on special photographic film).
· _RADIOGRAPHY_departments of hospitals produce X-ray radiographs.
· __NUCLEAR__ __MEDICINE_ uses radioactive isotopes to trace events in the body, locate tumors or
blockages in blood vessels.
· Radiation can be used to __TREAT__ ____CANCER__ (e.g. Iodine-131 can be used to treat a hyperactive
thyroid gland). Some cancers can be treated with radiation (e.g. inject strontium-89 into blood; it gets
absorbed by bone, especially by bone tumors. The radiation helps kill the bone tumors). X-Rays can also
be shot at tumors to kill them. The radiation, however, harms _NORMAL/HEALTHY__cells, which is why
radiation therapy usually makes the patient sick as well.

Nuclear Energy
· Nuclear _FISSION___and nuclear_FUSION___ reactions are two types of nuclear reactions that release a
large amount of energy. In these reactions, ___SMALL___amounts of mass are converted into__LARGE__
amounts of energy according to Albert Einstein's famous equation: ___ E = mc2____. (According to this
equation, 1 kg of mass can be converted into 90,000,000,000,000,000 J of energy!).
· __NUCLEAR_ __FISSION___occurs when a heavy atom splits apart into lighter atoms after being
bombarded with neutrons. The particles that are released from the heavy nucleus have slightly less mass
in total than the heavy nucleus. The difference in mass has been converted to___ENERGY__. In addition,
the reaction has produced more neutrons, which can go on to cause fission reactions in other heavy
nuclei (a__CHAIN__ ___REACTION__). A chain reaction will only occur if there is enough of the
radioactive material around (i.e. a "__CRITICAL__ mass") and if there is something to slow down the fast
moving electrons (a _MODERATOR_) so they won't escape before hitting another nucleus. See Figure 4


A neutron hits a uranium

nucleus and splits it, which causes
that nucleus to release more neutrons
which go on to split many more atoms


Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

· __NUCLEAR_ ___FUSION_occurs when light elements combine to produce heavier ones. To stick nuclei
together takes a lot of energy, since nuclei, having positive charges, will ___REPEL___ each other. The
temperature necessary to get the nuclei to hit each other fast enough are very high -- several million
degrees! However, when the nuclei do combine, the resulting single nucleus formed has slightly less
mass than the original nuclei that came together. The "missing" energy again has been converted to
energy according to E = mc2. This is how the __SUN_____ and hydrogen bombs (the most powerful type
of bomb known) produce their energy. Below is a typical fusion reaction.
· In this equation, you can see that 2 atoms of deuterium combine to make 1 atom of helium, plus a
neutrino and some energy.
1 H + 21H ® 23 He + 01n + energ y
· One gram of deuterium contains enough energy to run the average home for ____40______years!
Unfortunately, the temperatures required for fusion are so high that so far fusion reactors providing the
world's energy needs from a few buckets of sea water remains an elusive dream for now. "Cold Fusion"
has likewise been possible only in the imaginations of eager physicists.
· All nuclear reactors today are __FISSION_ reactors. The first nuclear reactor was built in 1942. In a
nuclear reactor, such as the Canadian-built___CANDU___________ (Canadian Deuterium Uranium)
reactor, a controlled chain reaction takes place (as opposed to the uncontrolled chain reaction that occurs
in atomic bombs). Uranium-235 from uranium oxide fuel rods undergoes fission, and the neutrons
emitted by the reaction are slowed down by D2O ("heavy water") so that an uncontrolled chain reaction
doesn't happen. The D2O acts as a "__MODERATOR_" in the reaction (it slows down the neutrons to the
right speed to cause fission reactions), and control rods which can absorb neutrons can be brought in
between the fuel rods to increase or decrease the rate of fission. Huge amounts of heat are produced
and this is carried away by the D2O and then used to heat water to produce steam. The steam turns
_TURBINES__and produces_ELECTRICAL__ ____ENERGY_. The CANDU reactor is one of the safest
reactors because it can be safely "shut down" if it gets too hot simply by draining out the D 2O, which will
stop the chain reaction.
· Nuclear reactors have a couple of _ADVANTAGES________ .In places where other forms of electricity
(such as hydroelectricity) are unavailable, they can provide all the energy a country needs. France, for
example, relies on nuclear power for most of its electricity. It does not ___BURN___ anything to produce
electricity, so it doesn't pollute the air, use up dwindling fossil fuel reserves, or contribute to the
Greenhouse effect or the hole in the ozone layer.
· Of course, nuclear reactors have a number of serious disadvantages. First, there is always the danger
that an accident might occur in which control of the chain reaction is lost, and radiation can spill out into
the environment (a.k.a. Nuclear meltdown). Such accidents have occurred in _CHERNOBYL_in the former
Soviet Union in 1986 and more recently in Japan at the Fukushima power plant following a tsunami that
flooded the main reactor. As nuclear reactors around the world age, there is growing concern for their
continued safe operation. Secondly, nuclear reactors produced low-level nuclear wastes, high-level
nuclear wastes, and thermal discharges. Low level wastes include fission products such as krypton-85,
and activation products such as neutrons and tritium. High-level wastes are particularly radioactive and
dangerous, and include such nasty things as plutonium, barium, krypton, and americium. Some of these
products, like plutonium that has a very long half-life, will be deadly hundreds of thousands of years from
now, and so handling and safe _STORAGE__ (if indeed such a thing is possible), is a great concern. A third
concern is that some nuclear wastes, especially those from fast-breeder reactors, can themselves be used
to produce nuclear __WEAPONS__ (this is why we won't sell CANDU reactors to Iraq and other volatile
Ms.Smedley – Science 10 - Radiation NAME____________________

Now, Cheat Sheet time!!!

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