Radioactivity Explained

Radioactivity is a term that is widely used by people everywhere. But what exactly does it mean? What are the types of radioactivity? And what are its effects? All these are questions that most people cannot answer with ease. A physics lesson is in order here if you are to understand exactly what radioactivity is about.

What is Radioactivity?

Simply defined, it is the disintegration of the nuclei of some natural elements. This destruction occurs periodically and at a rate unique to each element. Some elements, such as iodine 131, decay rather quickly. The half- life of iodine for example is a mere eight days.

Other elements decay very slowly. An example of such elements is Potassium, which is one of the radioactive elements found in the human body. Potassium takes a solid 1.42 billion years to completely decompose.

Radioactive materials can be found virtually anywhere: from the surface of the earth to the very air and even in human bodies, as evidenced by the presence of Potassium.

What are the Types of Radiation?

Basically, there are three types of radiation. These are:

  1. Alpha radiation

This involves the emission of positively charged particles. Generally, the particles emitted tend to be heavy and cannot penetrate through thick material. In fact, a sheet of paper is enough to stop these particles.

  1. Beta Radiation

Beta radiation involves the emission of electrons. These particles are far more penetrating than Alpha particles. To stop them, you need to use a sheet of aluminum a few millimeters thick.

  1. Gamma radiation

The particles emitted due to gamma radiation tend to be extremely penetrating, and include such things as radio waves and X- rays. They can actually penetrate through a human body. Only thick walls of concrete or lead can be able to stop them.

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