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Emission of energy from unstable nuclei which are trying to become stable Natural effect - radioactive isotopes are found everywhere. Radiation can cause ionisation (removal of electrons) of the atoms in our cells which can cause mutations in DNA.

Radioactivity is the spontaneous disintegration of an atom that is accompanied by emission of radiation. There are many radioactive elements that are isotopes (having the same atomic number but different atomic mass) of non radioactive elements. An atom of a radioactive isotope has the same number of orbital electrons as an atom of its non radioactive counterpart and, in general, will behave chemically and biologically like the non radioactive species. The difference between the radioactive and the non radioactive atoms of identical elements is the number of neutrons in the nucleus, the number of protons and electrons being the same for all. (Some elements have more than two isotopes.)

Radioactive decay - Mode

Units of Radioactivity Activity is expressed in terms of the Curie (Ci). Where 1 Ci is 3.700 1010 disintegrations per second (dps). Specific activity is the term used to describe the rate of radioactive decay of a substance the energies of which are measured in millions of electron volts, or mega electron volts (MeV). It is expressed by disintegration per second per unit mass or volume, or in units such as microcurie or millicurie per milliliter, per gram, or per milli mole.

Radioactive Emissions

Emission Alpha Beta


What? 2 protons 2 neutrons electron

Penetration few cm in air. Stopped by paper 1 metre in air. Stopped by thin aluminium

Gamma K electromagnetic few metres of concrete will wave reduce their energy. Difficult to stop

Absorption of Radiation

Background Radiation

Radioactive isotopes occur naturally: Cosmic rays we are protected from these by the atmosphere, but airline pilots receive a higher dose. Granite contains uranium, people in Cornwall receive a higher dose than usual because there is a lot of granite there. Food, our bodies, buildings etc. There are also made artificially: Medical Uses cancer treatment, medical tracers Nuclear Industry weapons industry, power industry

Fundamental law of radioactive decay

Each nucleus has a fixed probability of decaying per unit time. Nothing affects this probability (e.g., temperature, pressure, bonding environment, etc.) [exception: very high pressure promotes electron capture slightly] This is equivalent to saying that averaged over a large enough number of atoms the number of decays per unit time is proportional to the number of atoms present. Therefore in a closed system:

dN ! PN dt
N = number of parent nuclei at time t P = decay constant = probability of decay per unit time (units: s 1) To get time history of number of parent nuclei, integrating

N t ! No e


No = initial number of parent nuclei at time t = 0.

Measurement of Radioactivity
The random nature of nuclear disintegrations requires that a large number of individual disintegrations be observed to obtain a counting rate or total sample count with a desired statistical significance. Several problems must be considered in measurement of radioactivity. The radionuclide emission may be absorbed in the air path or in the walls of the detector. The dead time (unresponsive period between radioactive events) may lead to uncounted events. The energy of the ionizing particle may be insufficient to produce an ion in the sensitive volume of the detector.

Radioactivity - Detectors
When resolution is the highest priority, measurement should be made with a solid-state detector [such as lithium drifted Ge(Li) or Si(Li) or ultra pure germanium] coupled to a multi channel analyzer system. Scintillation Counters A good match should exist between the emission spectrum of the scintillator and the response curve of the photocathode of the multiplier phototube. Sodium iodide crystal doped with 1% thallium(I) iodide, a crystal useful for counting beta particles but particularly useful for counting gamma radiation. When radiation interacts with a NaI(Tl) crystal, the transmitted energy excites the iodine atoms. Upon their return to the ground electronic state, this energy is reemitted in the form of a light pulse in the ultraviolet region, which is promptly absorbed by the thallium atom and reemitted as fluorescent light at 410 nm.

Proportional Counters A sample of radioactive material can be placed inside the active volume of a flow proportional counter, thus avoiding losses due to window absorption. The chamber is purged with a rapid flow of counter gas (P-10 gas, a mixture of 10% methane in argon) and the flow is maintained during counting of samples. Counter life is virtually unlimited. Such a counter is particularly suited for distinguishing and counting low-energy alpha and beta particles.

Radioactivity Flow Detectors Radioactivity emissions from the flowing sample are detected by photomultiplier tubes on opposite sides of the flowing stream. The resultant signals are summed, checked for coincidence, and sorted by either a pulse-height analyzer or a multi channel analyzer. The sample counts in a flowing system are dependent on the flow rate and on the volume of the counting cell. Sensitivity is maximized by increasing the flow-cell volume and decreasing the flow rate.

Liquid scintillation counting has as its primary application the counting of weak beta emitters, such as tritium and carbon-14. The energy transfer from these relatively low-energy beta particles is maximized when the radio labeled sample is in close proximity to the scintillator, as in a homogeneous solution. However, many other radioactive isotopes can also be measured, sometimes with higher counting efficiency and greater ease than by other techniques. Higher-energy beta emitters can be readily counted as well as weak xray, alpha, and gamma emitters.

Isotopes Detection by LSC

Isotopes Detection by LSC

Radioactive isotopes detection by LSC

LSC Solvents For liquid-scintillation counting (LSC), samples are dissolved in a liquid cocktail that contains a suitable solvent, a primary scintillator and perhaps a secondary scintillator, and additives to improve water miscibility and to permit counting at low temperatures. Modern LSC cocktails must be designed to handle multipurpose applications, most of which are of an aqueous nature. These cocktails must have an efficient energy-transfer system that will convert sample radioactivity into measurable light and, for aqueous samples, must have a surfactant (emulsifier) system that will allow the incorporation of a variety of aqueous sample types. Lipophilic samples do not require these surfactants.

Sample Vials Sample vials should have a low background count. High-density polyethylene vials are economical and are used for counting samples. Borosilicate glass vials are best for sample storage because they are impervious to toluene, xylene, and 1,4-dioxane.

Detection of Radiation

Geiger counter Photographic film Cloud chamber