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Unit 6 Nuclear Radiation

Models of the Atom Many scientists have contributed to the modern view of the atom. They have developed and improved their models (descriptions) of the atom from the results of experiments carried out over the last century. Thomson s plum pudding model At one time, scientists thought that atoms were the smallest bits of matter you could have. Then in 1897, J.J. Thomson discovered that atoms could give out tiny, charged particles which he called electrons. Electrons have a negative charge; as atoms have no overall charge; this suggested that they must also contain positive charge to balance the charge on the electrons. Thomson suggested that an atom might be a sphere of positive charge with electrons dotted about inside it rather like raisins in a pudding. People called this the plum pudding model.

Rutherford s Nuclear Model In 1911, Ernest Rutherford got two of his assistants, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, to do the experiment below.

Geiger-Marsden (Gold Foil) Experiment

In their experiment, Geiger and Marsden bombarded thin gold foil with alpha particles tiny, positively charged particles shot out by some radioactive materials. Most of the alpha particles passed straight through the gold atoms, but a few were repelled so strongly that they bounced back or were deflected through large angles. Rutherford concluded that the atom must be largely empty space, with its positive charge and mass in a tiny nucleus at the centre. In his model, the much lighter electrons orbited the nucleus rather like the planets do the Sun. In 1913 Niels Bohr modified Rutherford s model by suggesting that electrons were only allowed to have certain orbits around the nucleus. He did this in order to explain how atoms give out light. In 1919, Rutherford found that positively charged particles could be knocked out of the nucleus. These were protons. In 1932, James Chadwick found that the nucleus also contained uncharged particles, which he called neutrons.

Atomic Structure Points to note: Once the atom is neutral it will have equal numbers of protons and electrons. If it gains or loses an electron it will become charged. It will now be called an ion. If it gains electron(s) it will become negatively charged (an anion) or if it loses an electron(s) it becomes positively charged (a cation). The number of protons is specific to an atom. If this number changes then the identity of the atom also changes. Diagrammatic Representation of The Structure of the Atom

Atomic Representation Atoms are represented using the following notation:


X where,

A = mass number of the atom [mass no. (A) = protons (p) + neutrons (n)] Z = atomic number (This is the same as the number of protons in the atom.) X = letter(s) used to represent the identity of the atom The Periodic Table The atoms are organized based on their structure and characteristics into a Periodic Table. This table is composed of horizontal Periods and vertical Groups. The Period tells the number of shells the atom has in its structure. Atoms in the same Period have the same number of shells. As you go across the Period one more electron is added to the final shell until it becomes completely full on the extreme right hand side of the Period. The Group tells the number of electrons on the last shell of the atom. All atoms in the same Group have the same number of electrons on their last shell. However, as you go down the Group each atom has one more shell than the atom above it in the Group.

A Periodic Table Isotopes Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different mass numbers. The difference in the mass numbers results from a difference in the number of neutrons. The number of protons does not change. e.g. 31H
2 1H 1 1H

are all isotopes of hydrogen. Note that the atomic (proton) number is the same in each but the mass number is different. Why is this so?

Nuclear Radiation Some materials contain atoms with unstable nuclei. In time, each nucleus breaks up, or rearranges itself. As it does so, it shoots out a tiny particle, a burst of wave energy, or both. The particles and waves radiate from the nucleus, so they are called nuclear radiation. The materials they come from are radioactive.

Alpha ( ), Beta ( ) and Gamma ( ) Radiation There are three main types of nuclear radiation: alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. Comparison/Differences Among of the Types of Radiation Type of Radiation Identity Alpha Particles Identical to a Helium-4 nucleus 4 2+ 2He not very penetrating: stopped by a thick sheet of paper, or by skin or by a few cm of air strong deflected Beta Particles a fast moving electron 0-1e Gamma Radiation electromagnetic waves

Penetrating Effect/Range

penetrating, but stopped by a few (appr. 4)mm of aluminium or other metal weak deflected

highly penetrating: never completely stopped though lead & thick concrete will reduce intensity

Ionizing effect Effect of a magnetic field

very weak undeflected

Effect of an electric field

deflected toward negative plate

deflected toward positive plate


Type of tracks in a cloud chamber

thick & straight

thin, bent & tortuous

produce secondary (faint) tracks

Alpha Particles The identity of an alpha particle is the same as a helium nucleus, 42He2+. When an alpha particle is emitted from a radioactive nuclide the mass number of the nuclide decreases by 4 and its atomic number by 2. Since the atomic number changes the identity of the nuclide also changes.
226 88


222 86

Rn + 4He2+

Beta Particles The identity of a beta particle is the same as a fast moving electron, 0-1e. When a beta particle is emitted from a radioactive nuclide the mass number remains the same while the atomic (proton) number increases by 1. Again since the atomic number changes the identity of the atom changes.
14 6

14 7

N + 0e

Gamma Radiation Gamma radiation are electromagnetic waves and do not change either the mass number or the atomic number of the nuclide.

Detecting Radiation Alpha, beta and gamma radiation can be detected using a Geiger-Mller tube (G-M tube). This can be connected to the following: y A ratemeter This gives a reading in counts per second. For example, if 50 alpha particles are detected by a G-M tube every second, the ratemeter reads 50 counts per second. An electronic counter This counts the total number of particles (or bursts of gamma radiation) detected by the tube. An amplifier and loudspeaker The loudspeaker makes a click when each particle or burst is detected.

y y

A G-M Tube Connected to a Ratemeter

When the activity of a substance is measured the G-M tube has to take a reading in the absence of the radioactive substance. Here it is measuring the background radiation. Nuclear radiation occurs naturally and is all around us. To get the true value for the activity of the radioisotope each reading has to be subtracted from the activity value obtained in the absence of the isotope.

Radioactive Decay The break-up of unstable nuclei is called radioactive decay. It happens at random, and is unaffected by pressure, temperature or chemical change. As a matter of fact it is unaffected by any change external to the nucleus of the atom. Owing to the random nature of radioactive decay the number of atoms decaying every half-life is not constant. Sometimes there are more atoms decaying than at other times. The figure more or less hovers around a specific value which is an average of a number of half-lives. The process is also completely random. You cannot predict which nucleus is going to break up next, or when. However, some nuclei are more unstable than others and decay at a faster rate. Activity The activity of a radioactive sample is the average number of nuclei breaking up per second. It is measured in becquerels (Bq). Half-Life The half-life of a radioactive isotope can be defined in either of two ways. The half-life of a radioactive isotope is: y the time taken for half the nuclei present to decay or y the time taken for the activity to halve.

Radioactive Decay Curves If the activity/percentage/ mass of a radioactive substance is plotted against time then a decay curve is obtained. The curve ALWAYS touches the y-axis and slopes gradually towards the x-axis. It gets as close as is possible to the axis without touching it. The occasions on which it touches the x-axis are extremely rare. When it touches the x-axis what does this signify? Half-Life and Decay Curves The half life of a substance can be obtained using a decay curve. Look at the figure below for an example of this:

Use the graph below to find the half life of the sample. Note the points below the graph.

Points to note:     The half-life is always half the original/remaining value. Take as many half-lives as is possible and then find the average of these. This average half-life should be taken as the half-life of the sample. Use broken lines when taking your half-lives. The half-life is always constant.

Half-life of Some Radioisotopes Radioactive isotope Radon-222 Strontium-90 Radium-226 Carbon-14 Plutonium-239 Uranium-235 Half-life 3.8 days 28 years 1602 years 5730 years 24 400 years 710 million years

Precautions When Handling Radioisotopes i. ii. iii. iv. Special suits have to be worn to reduce exposure to radiation. Tongs are used to handle the radioisotopes. Lead containers are used to carry the radioactive substances. Lead shields are also used to guard from radiation.

NB. Lead is poisonous.

You are required to be able to describe an activity that mimics radioactive decay. Any activity that is dependent on random probability e.g. the tossing of a coin or the rolling of die can be used to demonstrate this. An adequate number of either has to be used to give a good representation of a radioactive sample. Your activity will be done as a planning and designing lab. A description is given below.

Hypothesis : Aim:

Any activity that displays random probability could be used to mimic radioactive decay.

To demonstrate the phenomenon of radioactivity and to determine the half-life of decay. 250 identical coins, a container to shake the coins thoroughly 1. 2. 3. Shake coins thoroughly in the container Throw coins on a level surface. Remove all the coins with tails on the uppermost surface. These represent the number of decayed atoms. Return the remaining coins to the container and record this number. This represents the number of undecayed coins. Repeat steps 1-4 six more times. Tabulate your results. Plot a graph of number of coins remaining against throw number. Use the graph to find the half-life of the simulation.

Apparatus: Method:


5. 6. 7. 8.


Should be tabulated. Number of coins remaining 250 Throw number 0

You are to complete the table using the required number of readings. Discussion: Give background information on radioactivity. NB. This is a Planning and Designing Lab so you must have your three variables outlined in your discussion: i. ii. iii. Manipulated Responding Controlled


State the half-life of the sample.

Arguments for and Against the Use of Nuclear Power Arguments for y y The reserves of uranium, although not limitless, are many times those of fossil fuels. Uranium produces many times more energy than the same mass of any fossil fuel. The energy released per atom is around a million times greater than that from a chemical change such as burning. It does not produce greenhouse gases as burning fossil fuels does.

Arguments against y y y y High levels of radioactivity associated with nuclear waste. There are fears that construction standards for nuclear reactors are not high enough to ensure safety. Workers at nuclear plants may be damaged by radiation. Materials used to cool nuclear reactors may cause thermal and other pollution.