Distinguish between stable and radioactive isotopes and describe the conditions under which a nucleus is unstable

Radioactive isotopes emit radiation in the form of alpha, beta, positron or gamma rays to become a stable isotope of any given particular element. This is caused by the instability of the nucleus of the atom. The stabilising process in which unstable atoms undergo is known as radioactive decay. Isotopes that are stable do not emit radiation. Eg. Carbon-12 is stable and carbon-14 is radioactive. The conditions under which becomes unstable depends primarily on the ratio of neutrons to protons and the combined number of nuclear particles (nucleons). There are three situations in which radioactive decay results:


Nucleon number too large: The nucleon number is reduced by alpha decay Excess protons: Positrons are released when protons decay Excess neutrons: Beta radiation is produced when neutrons decay. One extra proton is formed during decay.

The table below summarises the three types of radiation that can be emitted. Alpha Symbol Composition Beta Gamma

Helium nucleus 4 He

Electron 0 e

Electromagnetic radiation 0 0 high 5 cm thickness of lead

Relative mass Relative charge Penetrating power Barrier needed to stop radiation

4 2 low Thin sheet of paper

1/2000 -1 moderate 0.5 mm sheet of lead

An isotope is unstable in the following two situations: 1. If the atomic number is greater than 83

© Timothy Li 2003.. All rights reserved

As technology developed. transuranium elements were produced by bombarding large nuclei with positive particles of a Cyclotron high velocity such as helium and carbon. If its ratio of neutrons to protons lies outside the zone of stability as shown in the diagram below: Ÿ Describe how transuranic elements are produced Transuranic elements are elements that are “heavier” than the element uranium.2. Originally. Uranium is considered the heaviest of the naturally occurring elements with an atomic number of 92. transuranic elements were made by bombarding nuclei with neutrons. Transuranic elements are also known as transuranium elements. All rights reserved . © Timothy Li 2003. These were produced in machines called cyclotrons or linear accelerators.. This means that the atomic number is greater than the atomic number of uranium.

© Timothy Li 2003. All rights reserved . The Molybdenum-99 is then extracted and absorbed onto alumina and packaged into tubes around the size of a person’s thumb. the process will be different. Not all commercial radioisotopes are produced in such a fashion.. The first transuranic element was produced in the 1940’s within the containment of a nuclear reactor. the HIFLUX (High Flux Australian Reactor) is used to produce commercial radioisotopes that are used in medicine and industries. Ÿ Describe how commercial radioisotopes are produced Commercial radioisotopes are produced commonly in nuclear reactors. This technetium-99m is then injected into the patient’s bloodstream. For example. The following example shows how a transuranic element can be produced: 92 U238 + 0n1 --> 92U239 + gamma --> 93Np239 + beta --> 94Pu239 (Plutonium) + beta The most recent production of a transuranic element is element 118 at Russia’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna. Some of the Uranium-235 present undergoes nuclear fission to form Molybdenum-99. This is achieved by flowing normal saline solution through the alumina.23 additional elements with atomic numbers up to 118 have been produced. The technetium-99m can then be chemically bound to various biological molecules so that they can be used in diagnostic tests. This element was Neptunium. During its time in the technetium-99m generator. depending on the radioisotope required. These fuel elements(UO2) typically contain around 2% of Uranium-235. At this stage it can be packed into a technetium-99m generator and transported around the country. However. the technetium-99m can be extracted without removing it from the heavily shielded container. The fuel elements are left in the reactor core for around a week. the Molybdenum-99 continually decays to technetium-99m. Commercial radioisotopes are produced by placing up to 25 fuel elements into the reactor core. generally most commercial radioisotopes come from uranium fuel elements which are left to decay and then. When the generator reaches its final destination.

the leaves collapse. All rights reserved . As a result. Depending on how fast the leaves collapse. the intensity of the radiation..Ÿ Identify instruments and processes that can be used to detect radiation Dischargement of a charged electroscope There are various types of radiation. Ionised air molecules conduct the charge away from the plates of an electroscope that has been previously charged. However. Madame Curie used this process to determine the activity of the radioactive samples. as the radioactivity of the sample is only approximated. © Timothy Li 2003. this method is not entirely accurate. and hence the activity of the radioactive sample can be determined. Ionising radiation can be detected due to the fact that it ionises air molecules as it travels through the air.

Within the Geiger-Muller tube. The size of the electric current produced is proportional to the radioactivity of the sample. All rights reserved . the electrons undergo a series of transitions which can result in the emission of various visible wavelengths.Geiger-Muller tube and counter As previously mentioned. When the gamma radiation is absorbed. Fluorescence and the Scintillation Counter Substances that are fluorescent glow when they absorb high-energy radiation such as gamma rays and emit visible light as a subsequent result. The radiation from the radioactive sample enters the Geiger-Muller tube and ionises a low pressure(10 kPa) inert gas. This device is known as the scintillation counter and works particularly well with materials © Timothy Li 2003. This can be detected by a photocell. which are in turn attracted to the anode. The ionisation of the air releases electrons.. the electrons become “excited”. The acceleration of the electrons towards the anode causes more ionisation of gaseous atoms. an electric current is produced. A large number of electrons arrive at the anode and as a result. which amplifies and counts the response. When they return to their normal states. ionising radiation can be detected using a charged electroscope. a cylindrical cathode which is commonly made of copper and a central thin tungsten wire anode reside. Argon is commonly used as the inert gas.

htm> Its elemental .howstuffworks.org/itselemental/ele088. It is far superior to the Geiger-Muller counter. yet much more expensive.html> © Timothy Li 2003. All rights reserved .com “How batteries work”.com/battery3..such as sodium iodide which contain some thallium.<http://www.the element Radium -<http://education. Bibilography: Ÿ Ÿ Howstuffworks.jlab.

com/facts/radiation/medical.nsc.thinkquest.nmcco.htm> Applications of nuclear science .Radiation .<http://library.Nuclear Facts .<http://www.org/issues/rad/isotopes.Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ National Safety Council .Medical and industrial uses of radioactive materials <http://www.htm> Radium <http://www.htm> NMC .Understanding Radiation .pomona.org/C004606/applications/> Nuclear energy .Microsoft Encarta Encylcopedia 2001 Conquering Chemistry Production of Materials Reference Booklet HSC Excel Chemistry © Timothy Li 2003.. All rights reserved .chemistry.edu/Chemistry/periodic_table/Elements/Radium/radium.

Yet its roots are found in the early 1900’s during the World Wars. © Timothy Li 2003. However.. it will be many years before the full reality of nuclear chemistry will set in. Nuclear chemistry opens up another branch of science that will make many innovations and inventions possible that are currently not feasible. it has and willl continue to be a source of interest for chemists. From the fundamentals to the complicated areas of nuclear chemistry.Introduction Nuclear chemistry is considered as “new” to some people as it is still constantly developing. All rights reserved .