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What is Radioactive Decay?

One of the most interesting scientific phenomena, radioactivity has always been a subject that has attracted people to research and also to reveal scientific facts about its aspects. The process by which unstable atomic nuclei release subatomic particles is known as radioactivity. In this phenomenon, electrons are released from the atomic nucleus of an element, resulting in energy radiation. This loss of energy results in the transformation of the main core nucleus into a different atom called the daughter nucleus. Such elements are for example: uranium, thorium, plutonium, tritium etc. The radioactive and disintegration process is called radioactive decay.

The French scientist Henri Becquerel discovered this phenomenon. The SI unit Becquerel was named in honor of this scientist. He conducted experiments by placing uranium salts with a photo plate in front of it in a dark area. The plate darkened and therefore theorized that a certain type of energy must be emitted by these salts in order to darken the plate. This phenomenon has been confirmed later in numerous experiments. In connection with this phenomenon, an important term called half life is used. It is basically used to calculate the rate of decay that a radioactive element will be exposed to by its continuous emission of energy. An estimate of an element’s half-life provides valuable information such as mean duration, decay constant, radiation intensity, and the amount of formation of daughter elements. In addition, -14, potassium-argon, uranium-lead, etc. These techniques are used in the fields of anthropology, geology and archeology.

Distortion Modes

It is divided into two main groups as Main Modes and Secondary Modes. There are several radioactive decay modes that have been described. And these are as follows:

Main modes

Alpha decay: In this mode, an alpha particle emits from the nucleus of an element, resulting in the formation of a daughter element with 4 and 2 decreases in mass number and atomic number respectively. For example, Uranium-238 decays with an emission of alpha particles to form thorium-234. While the atomic number of the first is 92, the atomic number of the second is 90.

Beta corruption: The core emits a beta particle in the decay process. There are two types and they are as follows:

• Positive beta decay, emission of an electron and neutrino (positron)

• Emission of negative beta decay of an electron and an anti-neutrino. When the nucleus emits two electrons and two anti-neutrinos, this mode is called Double Beta Decay.

• Gamma decay: An atomic nucleus emits gamma rays in the decay process and such rays are the most biologically dangerous. They have a very short frequency and hence the highest amplitude or density.

Secondary modes

Proton emission: In this process, a proton is released by the nucleus, especially in high arousal conditions. This emission usually occurs after a beta decay process. This process helps us learn about the mass and structure of atoms and the process of nuclear deformation. When two protons are simultaneously ejected from a nucleus, the process is known as Double Proton Emission.

Neutron emission: When an atomic nucleus contains more neutrons, it reaches a state of excitation. In this scenario, the nucleus spontaneously emits a neutron, and this mode of radioactive decay is called neutron emission.

Spontaneous cleavage: Very heavy chemical elements exhibit this property, where the nucleus breaks down into two or more element nuclei with smaller atomic numbers. This only happens with atoms that have mass numbers greater than 58 atomic mass units.

Cluster Disruption: In this mode, the atomic nucleus emits a cluster of small nuclei of a particular type that are larger than an alpha particle but smaller than a binary fission product. Parent atoms with mass numbers greater than 40 may exhibit this mode of decay, for example, Ra 223 emits a cluster of C 14 and Pb 209.

Positron emission: In this process, a nucleus emits a single positron and a neutrino, all motion governed by a weak force. This mode occurs in nuclei with proton-rich atoms and causes nuclear transformation in which the nucleus elemental atomic number decreases by 1. When a nucleus emits two positrons and two neutrons, the process is known as Double Positron Emission.

Electron capture: In this mode, a proton-rich main nucleus captures an inner orbital electron, causing the emission of a neutrino and the simultaneous transformation of a proton to a neutron. In this process, when a nucleus absorbs an orbital electron and emits one positron and two neutrinos, it is known as the decay process.

Isomeric transition: In this mode, a nucleus emits a gamma photon in an excited metastable state. At the same time, the original components of the main atomic nucleus do not change and the nucleus returns to its normal ground state after this process.

Internal transformation: In this radioactive decay process, an electron from one of the inner orbitals reacts with an atomic nucleus in an excited state under the influence of electromagnetic forces. This causes the electron to eject from the nucleus and the atom turns into an ion. Also, this process lacks neutrino emissions.

Radioactivity phenomenon, drugs, machinery, industrial applications, weapons, healthcare, etc. As such, it has benefited humanity in many ways. While this is a boon to people, radioactive processes must be handled carefully to avoid any major events.


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