HOME
TheInfoList



Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable
atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the discovery of the neutron in 1 ...
loses energy by
radiation upThe international symbol for types and levels of ionizing radiation (radioactivity) that are unsafe for unshielded humans. Radiation, in general, exists throughout nature, such as in light and sound. In physics, radiation is the emission or ...
. A material containing unstable nuclei is considered radioactive. Three of the most common types of decay are alpha decay, beta decay, and gamma decay, all of which involve emitting one or more
particle In the physical sciences, a particle (or corpuscule in older texts) is a small localized object to which can be ascribed several physical or chemical properties such as volume, density or mass. They vary greatly in size or quantity, from subatom ...
s or
photon The photon (Greek: φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiation such as light and radio waves, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. Phot ...
s. The
weak force Weak may refer to: Songs * "Weak" (AJR song), 2016 * "Weak" (Melanie C song), 2011 * "Weak" (SWV song), 1993 * "Weak" (Skunk Anansie song), 1995 * "Weak", a song by Seether from ''Seether: 2002-2013'' Television episodes * "Weak" (''Fear the Walk ...
is the
mechanism Mechanism may refer to: *Mechanism (engineering), rigid bodies connected by joints in order to accomplish a desired force and/or motion transmission *Mechanism (biology), explaining how a feature is created *Mechanism (philosophy), a theory that al ...
that is responsible for beta decay, while the other two are governed by the usual electromagnetic and strong forces. Radioactive decay is a
stochastic Stochastic () refers to the property of being well described by a random probability distribution. Although stochasticity and randomness are distinct in that the former refers to a modeling approach and the latter refers to phenomena themselves, ...
(i.e. random) process at the level of single atoms. According to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a particular atom will decay, regardless of how long the atom has existed. However, for a significant number of identical atoms, the overall decay rate can be expressed as a
decay constant Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
or as
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
. The half-lives of radioactive atoms have a huge range; from nearly instantaneous to far longer than the
age of the universe In physical cosmology, the age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang. Today, astronomers have derived two different measurements of the age of the universe: a measurement based on the observations of a distant, infant state of the ...
. The decaying nucleus is called the ''parent
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transferred ...
'' (or ''parent radioisotope''Radionuclide is the more correct term, but radioisotope is also used. The difference between isotope and nuclide is explained at Isotope#Isotope vs. nuclide.), and the process produces at least one ''daughter nuclide''. Except for gamma decay or internal conversion from a nuclear
excited state In quantum mechanics, an excited state of a system (such as an atom, molecule or nucleus) is any quantum state of the system that has a higher energy than the ground state (that is, more energy than the absolute minimum). Excitation is an elevat ...
, the decay is a
nuclear transmutation Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or an isotope into another chemical element. Because any element (or isotope of one) is defined by its number of protons (and neutrons) in its atoms, i.e. in the atomic nucleus, nuclea ...
resulting in a daughter containing a different number of
proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approximately one atomic mass unit, are collecti ...
s or
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave si ...
s (or both). When the number of protons changes, an atom of a different
chemical element 400px, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elements cannot be br ...
is created. *
Alpha decay#REDIRECT Alpha decay#REDIRECT Alpha decay {{R from other capitalisation ...
{{R from other capitalisation ...

Alpha decay
occurs when the nucleus ejects an alpha particle (helium nucleus). *
Beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
occurs in two ways; ** (i) beta-minus decay, when the nucleus emits an electron and an
antineutrino A neutrino ( or ) (denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass i ...
in a process that changes a neutron to a proton. ** (ii) beta-plus decay, when the nucleus emits a
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1 ''e'', a spin of 1/2 (the same as the electron), and has the same mass as an electron. When a positron ...
and a
neutrino A neutrino ( or ) (denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass i ...
in a process that changes a proton to a neutron, this process is also known as
positron emission Positron emission or beta plus decay (β+ decay) is a subtype of radioactive decay called beta decay, in which a proton inside a radionuclide nucleus is converted into a neutron while releasing a positron and an electron neutrino (''ν''e). Positro ...
. * In
gamma decay A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highe ...
a radioactive nucleus first decays by the emission of an alpha or beta particle. The daughter nucleus that results is usually left in an excited state and it can decay to a lower energy state by emitting a gamma ray photon. * In
neutron emission Neutron emission is a mode of radioactive decay in which one or more neutrons are ejected from a nucleus. It occurs in the most neutron-rich/proton-deficient nuclides, and also from excited states of other nuclides as in photoneutron emission and be ...
, extremely neutron-rich nuclei, formed due to other types of decay or after many successive
neutron capture Neutron capture is a nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus and one or more neutrons collide and merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge, they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, w ...
s, occasionally lose energy by way of neutron emission, resulting in a change from one
isotope Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in each atom. The term ...
to another of the same element. * In
electron capture Electron capture (K-electron capture, also K-capture, or L-electron capture, L-capture) is a process in which the proton-rich nucleus of an electrically neutral atom absorbs an inner atomic electron, usually from the K or L electron shells. This ...

electron capture
, the nucleus may capture an orbiting electron, causing a proton to convert into a neutron in a process called electron capture. A neutrino and a gamma ray are subsequently emitted. * In
cluster decay Cluster decay, also named heavy particle radioactivity or heavy ion radioactivity, is a rare type of nuclear decay in which an atomic nucleus emits a small "cluster" of neutrons and protons, more than in an alpha particle, but less than a typica ...
and
nuclear fission In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller, lighter nuclei. The fission process often produces gamma photons, ...

nuclear fission
, a nucleus heavier than an alpha particle is emitted. By contrast, there are radioactive decay processes that do not result in a nuclear transmutation. The energy of an excited nucleus may be emitted as a gamma ray in a process called
gamma decay A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highe ...
, or that energy may be lost when the nucleus interacts with an orbital electron causing its ejection from the atom, in a process called
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive decay process wherein an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with one of the orbital electrons of the atom. This causes the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in an internal conv ...
. Another type of radioactive decay results in products that vary, appearing as two or more "fragments" of the original nucleus with a range of possible masses. This decay, called spontaneous
fission
fission
, happens when a large unstable nucleus spontaneously splits into two (or occasionally three) smaller daughter nuclei, and generally leads to the emission of gamma rays, neutrons, or other particles from those products. In contrast, decay products from a nucleus ''with spin'' may be distributed ''non-isotropically'' with respect to that spin direction. Either because of an external influence such as an
electromagnetic field An electromagnetic field (also EM field) is a classical (i.e. non-quantum) field produced by accelerating electric charges. It is the field described by classical electrodynamics and is the classical counterpart to the quantized electromagnetic fi ...
, or because the nucleus was produced in a dynamic process that constrained the direction of its spin, the
anisotropy Anisotropy () is the property of a material which allows it to change or assume different properties in different directions as opposed to isotropy. It can be defined as a difference, when measured along different axes, in a material's physical ...
may be detectable. Such a parent process could be a previous decay, or a
nuclear reaction In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or a nucleus and an external subatomic particle, collide to produce one or more new nuclides. Thus, a nuclear reaction ...
.See
Wu experiment The Wu experiment was a particle and nuclear physics experiment conducted in 1956 by the Chinese American physicist Chien-Shiung Wu in collaboration with the Low Temperature Group of the US National Bureau of Standards. The experiment's purpose w ...
among other counterexamples when the decaying atom is influenced by external factors.
For a summary table showing the number of stable and radioactive nuclides in each category, see
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transferred ...
. There are 28 naturally occurring chemical elements on Earth that are radioactive, consisting of 34 radionuclides (6 elements have 2 different radionuclides) that date before the time of formation of the
Solar System The Solar SystemCapitalization of the name varies. The International Astronomical Union, the authoritative body regarding astronomical nomenclature, specifies capitalizing the names of all individual astronomical objects but uses mixed "Solar ...

Solar System
. These 34 are known as
primordial nuclide In geochemistry, geophysics and nuclear physics, primordial nuclides, also known as primordial isotopes, are nuclides found on Earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Primordial nuclides were present in the in ...
s. Well-known examples are
uranium Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weak ...
and
thorium Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. Thorium is silvery and tarnishes black when it is exposed to air, forming thorium dioxide; it is moderately hard, malleable, and has a high melting ...
, but also included are naturally occurring long-lived radioisotopes, such as
potassium-40 Potassium-40 (40K) is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a long half-life of 1.251 years. It makes up 0.012% (120 ppm) of the total amount of potassium found in nature. Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope that undergoes both ty ...
. Another 50 or so shorter-lived radionuclides, such as
radium-226 Radium (88Ra) has no stable or nearly stable isotopes, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. The longest lived, and most common, isotope of radium is 226Ra with a half-life of . 226Ra occurs in the decay chain of 238U (often referred to ...
and
radon-222 Radon-222 (222Rn, Rn-222, historically radium emanation or radon) is the most stable isotope of radon, with a half-life of approximately 3.8 days. It is transient in the decay chain of primordial uranium-238 and is the immediate decay product of r ...
, found on Earth, are the products of
decay chain In nuclear science, the decay chain refers to a series of radioactive decays of different radioactive decay products as a sequential series of transformations. It is also known as a "radioactive cascade". Most radioisotopes do not decay directly to ...
s that began with the primordial nuclides, or are the product of ongoing
cosmogenic Cosmogenic nuclides (or cosmogenic isotopes) are rare nuclides (isotopes) created when a high-energy cosmic ray interacts with the nucleus of an ''in situ'' Solar System atom, causing nucleons (protons and neutrons) to be expelled from the atom (se ...
processes, such as the production of
carbon-14 Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleag ...
from
nitrogen-14 Natural nitrogen (7N) consists of two stable isotopes: the vast majority (99.6%) of naturally occurring nitrogen is nitrogen-14, with the remainder being nitrogen-15. Fourteen radioisotopes are also known, with atomic masses ranging from 10 to 25, ...
in the atmosphere by
cosmic rays Cosmic rays are high-energy protons and atomic nuclei that move through space at nearly the speed of light. They originate from the sun, from outside of the solar system in our own galaxy, and from distant galaxies. Cosmic rays were discover ...
. Radionuclides may also be produced artificially in
particle accelerators , a synchrotron collider type particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), Batavia, Illinois, USA. Shut down in 2011, until 2007 it was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, accelerating protons to an e ...
or
nuclear reactors#REDIRECT Nuclear reactor {{R from other capitalisation ...
, resulting in 650 of these with half-lives of over an hour, and several thousand more with even shorter half-lives. (See
List of nuclides This list of nuclides shows observed nuclides that either are stable or, if radioactive, have half-lives longer than one hour. This represents isotopes of the first 105 elements, except for elements 87 (francium) and 102 (nobelium). At least 3,300 ...
for a list of these sorted by half-life.)


History of discovery

Radioactivity was discovered in 1896 by the
French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France ** French language, a French language which originated in France, and its various dialects ** French people, a nation and ethnic group identified with Fr ...
scientist
Henri Becquerel Antoine Henri Becquerel (; 15 December 1852 – 25 August 1908) was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie (Marie Cu ...
, while working with
phosphorescent Phosphorescence is a type of photoluminescence related to fluorescence. When exposed to light (radiation) of a shorter wavelength, a phosphorescent substance will glow, absorbing the light and reemitting it at a longer wavelength. Unlike fluor ...

phosphorescent
materials. These materials glow in the dark after exposure to light, and he suspected that the glow produced in
cathode ray tube File:CRT monochrome.png, 250px, Cutaway rendering of a monochrome CRT: 1. Deflection coils2. Electron beam3. Focusing coil4. Phosphor layer on the inner side of the screen; emits light when struck by the electron beam5.&nbs ...

cathode ray tube
s by
X-ray An X-ray, or X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 picometers to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30  ...

X-ray
s might be associated with phosphorescence. He wrapped a photographic plate in black paper and placed various phosphorescent
salts In chemistry, a salt is a chemical compound consisting of an ionic assembly of cations and anions. Salts are composed of related numbers of cations (positively charged ions) and anions (negatively charged ions) so that the product is electrically ...
on it. All results were negative until he used
uranium Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weak ...
salts. The uranium salts caused a blackening of the plate in spite of the plate being wrapped in black paper. These radiations were given the name "Becquerel Rays". It soon became clear that the blackening of the plate had nothing to do with phosphorescence, as the blackening was also produced by non-phosphorescent
salts In chemistry, a salt is a chemical compound consisting of an ionic assembly of cations and anions. Salts are composed of related numbers of cations (positively charged ions) and anions (negatively charged ions) so that the product is electrically ...
of uranium and by metallic uranium. It became clear from these experiments that there was a form of invisible radiation that could pass through paper and was causing the plate to react as if exposed to light. At first, it seemed as though the new radiation was similar to the then recently discovered X-rays. Further research by Becquerel,
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics. ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' considers him to be the greatest e ...
, Paul Villard,
Pierre Curie Pierre Curie ( , ; 15 May 1859 – 19 April 1906) was a French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity, and radioactivity. In 1903, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife, Marie Curie (née Skłodowska), ...
,
Marie Curie Marie Skłodowska Curie ( ; ; ), born Maria Salomea Skłodowska (; 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. As the first of the Curie fami ...
, and others showed that this form of radioactivity was significantly more complicated. Rutherford was the first to realize that all such elements decay in accordance with the same mathematical exponential formula. Rutherford and his student
Frederick Soddy Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the ...

Frederick Soddy
were the first to realize that many decay processes resulted in the transmutation of one element to another. Subsequently, the
radioactive displacement law of Fajans and Soddy201px, Displacements resulting from various decay modes of a radionuclide. Horizontal axis: atomic number . Vertical axis: neutron number The law of radioactive displacements, also known as Fajans' and Soddy's law, in radiochemistry and nuclear ...
was formulated to describe the products of
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 1. It is derived from the Phoenician letter aleph - an ox ...

alpha
and
beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
. The early researchers also discovered that many other
chemical element 400px, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elements cannot be br ...
s, besides uranium, have
radioactive isotopes A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transferred ...
. A systematic search for the total radioactivity in uranium ores also guided Pierre and Marie Curie to isolate two new elements:
polonium Polonium is a chemical element with the symbol Po and atomic number 84. A rare and highly radioactive metal with no stable isotopes, polonium is chemically similar to selenium and tellurium, though its metallic character resembles that of its hori ...
and
radium Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitroge ...
. Except for the radioactivity of radium, the chemical similarity of radium to
barium Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in group 2 and is a soft, silvery alkaline earth metal. Because of its high chemical reactivity, barium is never found in nature as a free eleme ...
made these two elements difficult to distinguish. Marie and Pierre Curie's study of radioactivity is an important factor in science and medicine. After their research on Becquerel's rays led them to the discovery of both radium and polonium, they coined the term "radioactivity" to define the emission of
ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (ionising radiation) consists of subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves that have sufficient energy to ionize atoms or molecules by detaching electrons from them. The particles generally travel at a speed that is greater th ...
by some heavy elements. (Later the term was generalized to all elements.) Their research on the penetrating rays in uranium and the discovery of radium launched an era of using radium for the treatment of cancer. Their exploration of radium could be seen as the first peaceful use of nuclear energy and the start of modern
nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty involving the application of radioactive substances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Nuclear medicine imaging, in a sense, is "radiology done inside out" or "endoradiology" because it records radiat ...
.


Early health dangers

The dangers of
ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (ionising radiation) consists of subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves that have sufficient energy to ionize atoms or molecules by detaching electrons from them. The particles generally travel at a speed that is greater th ...
due to radioactivity and X-rays were not immediately recognized.


X-rays

The discovery of X‑rays by
Wilhelm Röntgen Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (; ; 27 March 184510 February 1923) was a German mechanical engineer and physicist, who, on 8 November 1895, produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range known as X-rays or Röntgen rays, an achieve ...
in 1895 led to widespread experimentation by scientists, physicians, and inventors. Many people began recounting stories of burns, hair loss and worse in technical journals as early as 1896. In February of that year, Professor Daniel and Dr. Dudley of
Vanderbilt University } Vanderbilt University (informally Vandy or VU) is a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in 1873, it was named in honor of shipping and rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who provided the school its initial $1-million en ...
performed an experiment involving X-raying Dudley's head that resulted in his hair loss. A report by Dr. H.D. Hawks, of his suffering severe hand and chest burns in an X-ray demonstration, was the first of many other reports in ''Electrical Review''. Other experimenters, including
Elihu Thomson Elihu Thomson (March 29, 1853 – March 13, 1937) was an English-born American engineer and inventor who was instrumental in the founding of major electrical companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Early life He was born ...
and
Nikola Tesla Nikola Tesla ( ; sr-cyr, Никола Тесла, ; 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alte ...
, also reported burns. Thomson deliberately exposed a finger to an X-ray tube over a period of time and suffered pain, swelling, and blistering.Ronald L. Kathern and Paul L. Ziemer, he First Fifty Years of Radiation Protection, physics.isu.edu
/ref> Other effects, including ultraviolet rays and ozone, were sometimes blamed for the damage, and many physicians still claimed that there were no effects from X-ray exposure at all. Despite this, there were some early systematic hazard investigations, and as early as 1902 William Herbert Rollins wrote almost despairingly that his warnings about the dangers involved in the careless use of X-rays were not being heeded, either by industry or by his colleagues. By this time, Rollins had proved that X-rays could kill experimental animals, could cause a pregnant guinea pig to abort, and that they could kill a foetus. He also stressed that "animals vary in susceptibility to the external action of X-light" and warned that these differences be considered when patients were treated by means of X-rays.


Radioactive substances

However, the biological effects of radiation due to radioactive substances were less easy to gauge. This gave the opportunity for many physicians and corporations to market radioactive substances as
patent medicine 's "Death's Laboratory" on the cover of ''Collier's'' (June 3, 1905) A patent medicine, also known as a nostrum (from the Latin ''nostrum remedium'', or "our remedy"), is a commercial product advertised (usually heavily) as a purported over-the-co ...
s. Examples were radium
enema An enema, also known as a clyster, is an injection of fluid into the lower bowel by way of the rectum.Cullingworth, ''A Manual of Nursing, Medical and Surgical'':155 Also, the word enema can refer to the liquid so injected, as well as to a devi ...
treatments, and radium-containing waters to be drunk as tonics.
Marie Curie Marie Skłodowska Curie ( ; ; ), born Maria Salomea Skłodowska (; 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. As the first of the Curie fami ...
protested against this sort of treatment, warning that the effects of radiation on the human body were not well understood. Curie later died from
aplastic anaemia Aplastic anemia is a disease in which the body fails to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow by stem cells that reside there. Aplastic anaemia causes a deficiency of all blood cell types: red bl ...
, likely caused by exposure to ionizing radiation. By the 1930s, after a number of cases of bone necrosis and death of radium treatment enthusiasts, radium-containing medicinal products had been largely removed from the market (
radioactive quackery A Borjomi mineral water ad from 1929, advertising the water as "radioactive". The water is still popular today, but said property is no longer emphasized. Radioactive quackery is quackery that improperly promotes radioactivity as a therapy for ill ...
).


Radiation protection

Only a year after Röntgen's discovery of X rays, the American engineer Wolfram Fuchs (1896) gave what is probably the first protection advice, but it was not until 1925 that the first International Congress of Radiology (ICR) was held and considered establishing international protection standards. The effects of radiation on genes, including the effect of cancer risk, were recognized much later. In 1927,
Hermann Joseph Muller Hermann Joseph Muller (December 21, 1890 – April 5, 1967) was an American geneticist, educator, and Nobel laureate best known for his work on the physiological and genetic effects of radiation (mutagenesis), as well as his outspoken political b ...
published research showing genetic effects and, in 1946, was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine ) , name = The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine , image = Nobel Prize.png , alt = A golden medallion with an embossed image of a bearded man facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", a ...
for his findings. The second ICR was held in Stockholm in 1928 and proposed the adoption of the röntgen unit, and the International X-ray and Radium Protection Committee (IXRPC) was formed. Rolf Sievert was named Chairman, but a driving force was George Kaye of the British National Physical Laboratory. The committee met in 1931, 1934 and 1937. After
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—forming two opposing milit ...
, the increased range and quantity of
radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is conside ...

radioactive
substances being handled as a result of military and civil nuclear programs led to large groups of occupational workers and the public being potentially exposed to harmful levels of ionising radiation. This was considered at the first post-war ICR convened in London in 1950, when the present
International Commission on Radiological Protection The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is an independent, international, non-governmental organization, with the mission to protect people, animals, and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. Its re ...
(ICRP) was born. Since then the ICRP has developed the present international system of radiation protection, covering all aspects of radiation hazard.


Units

The
International System of Units International is an adjective (also used as a noun) meaning "between nations". International may also refer to: Music Albums * ''International'' (Kevin Michael album), 2011 * ''International'' (New Order album), 2002 * ''International'' (The Three ...
(SI) unit of radioactive activity is the
becquerel The becquerel (; symbol: Bq) is the SI derived unit of radioactivity. One becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. For applications relating to human health this is a small ...
(Bq), named in honor of the scientist
Henri Becquerel Antoine Henri Becquerel (; 15 December 1852 – 25 August 1908) was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie (Marie Cu ...
. One Bq is defined as one transformation (or decay or disintegration) per second. An older unit of radioactivity is the
curie In computing, a CURIE (or ''Compact URI'') defines a generic, abbreviated syntax for expressing Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). It is an abbreviated URI expressed in a compact syntax, and may be found in both XML and non-XML grammars. A CURIE m ...
, Ci, which was originally defined as "the quantity or mass of radium emanation in
equilibrium List of types of equilibrium, the condition of a system in which all competing influences are balanced, in a wide variety of contexts. Equilibrium may also refer to: Film and television * ''Equilibrium'' (film), a 2002 science fiction film * ''T ...
with one gram of
radium Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitroge ...
(element)". Today, the curie is defined as disintegrations per second, so that 1 
curie In computing, a CURIE (or ''Compact URI'') defines a generic, abbreviated syntax for expressing Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). It is an abbreviated URI expressed in a compact syntax, and may be found in both XML and non-XML grammars. A CURIE m ...
(Ci) = . For radiological protection purposes, although the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission permits the use of the unit
curie In computing, a CURIE (or ''Compact URI'') defines a generic, abbreviated syntax for expressing Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). It is an abbreviated URI expressed in a compact syntax, and may be found in both XML and non-XML grammars. A CURIE m ...
alongside SI units, the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe. Its members have a combined area of and an estimated total population of about 447million. The EU has developed an internal s ...
European units of measurement directives As of 2009, the European Union had issued two units of measurement directives: In 1971 it issued Directive 71/354/EEC which required EU member states to standardise on the International System of Units (SI) rather than use a variety of CGS and ...
required that its use for "public health ... purposes" be phased out by 31 December 1985. The effects of ionizing radiation are often measured in units of
gray Grey or gray (American English alternative; see spelling differences) is an intermediate color between black and white. It is a neutral color or achromatic color, meaning literally that it is a color "without color", because it can be composed o ...
for mechanical or
sievert The sievert (symbol: SvNot be confused with the sverdrup or the svedberg, two non-SI units that sometimes use the same symbol.) is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI) and is a measure of the health ...
for damage to tissue.


Types

Early researchers found that an
electric Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. Electricity is related to magnetism, both being part of the phenomenon of electromagnetism, as described by ...
or
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charges, electric currents, and magnetic materials. A moving charge in a magnetic field experiences a force perpendicular to its own velocity and to the ...
could split radioactive emissions into three types of beams. The rays were given the names
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 1. It is derived from the Phoenician letter aleph - an ox ...
,
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or cursive ; grc, βῆτα, bē̂ta or ell, βήτα, víta) is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 2. In Ancient Greek, beta represented the voiced bilabial ...
, and
gamma Gamma (uppercase , lowercase ; ''gámma'') is the third letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 3. In Ancient Greek, the letter gamma represented a voiced velar stop . In Modern Greek, this letter repr ...
, in increasing order of their ability to penetrate matter. Alpha decay is observed only in heavier elements of atomic number 52 (
tellurium Tellurium is a chemical element with the symbol Te and atomic number 52. It is a brittle, mildly toxic, rare, silver-white metalloid. Tellurium is chemically related to selenium and sulfur, all three of which are chalcogens. It is occasi ...

tellurium
) and greater, with the exception of
beryllium-8 Beryllium-8 (8Be, Be-8) is a radionuclide with 4 neutrons and 4 protons. It is an unbound resonance and nominally an isotope of beryllium. It decays into two alpha particles with a half-life on the order of 10−16 seconds; this has important ramifi ...
(which decays to two alpha particles). The other two types of decay are observed in all the elements. Lead,
atomic number 300px, The Rutherford–Bohr model of the hydrogen atom () or a hydrogen-like ion (). In this model it is an essential feature that the photon energy (or frequency) of the electromagnetic radiation emitted (shown) when an electron jumps from one ...
82, is the heaviest element to have any isotopes stable (to the limit of measurement) to radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is seen in all isotopes of all elements of atomic number 83 (
bismuth Bismuth is a chemical element with the symbol Bi and atomic number 83. It is a pentavalent post-transition metal and one of the pnictogens with chemical properties resembling its lighter group 15 siblings arsenic and antimony. Elemental bismu ...
) or greater. Bismuth-209, however, is only very slightly radioactive, with a half-life greater than the age of the universe; radioisotopes with extremely long half-lives are considered effectively stable for practical purposes. Types of radioactive decay related to neutron and proton numbers In analysing the nature of the decay products, it was obvious from the direction of the
electromagnetic force Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force is carried by electromagnetic fields composed ...
s applied to the radiations by external magnetic and electric fields that
alpha particle Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced ...
s carried a positive charge,
beta particles A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β− ...
carried a negative charge, and
gamma ray A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highe ...
s were neutral. From the magnitude of deflection, it was clear that
alpha particles Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced ...
were much more massive than
beta particles A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β− ...
. Passing alpha particles through a very thin glass window and trapping them in a
discharge tube A gas-filled tube, also commonly known as a discharge tube or formerly as a Plücker tube, is an arrangement of electrodes in a gas within an insulating, temperature-resistant envelope. Gas-filled tubes exploit phenomena related to electric disc ...
allowed researchers to study the
emission spectrum The emission spectrum of a chemical element or chemical compound is the spectrum of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation emitted due to an atom or molecule making a transition from a high energy state to a lower energy state. The photon energ ...
of the captured particles, and ultimately proved that alpha particles are
helium Helium (from el, ἥλιος, Helios, lit=Sun) is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas, the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boilin ...
nuclei. Other experiments showed beta radiation, resulting from decay and
cathode ray Cathode rays (electron beam or e-beam) are streams of electrons observed in discharge tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, glass behind the positive electrode is observed to glow, due to elec ...
s, were high-speed
electrons The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because the ...
. Likewise, gamma radiation and X-rays were found to be high-energy
electromagnetic radiation In physics, electromagnetic radiation (EM radiation or EMR) refers to the waves (or their quanta, photons) of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, mic ...
. The relationship between the types of decays also began to be examined: For example, gamma decay was almost always found to be associated with other types of decay, and occurred at about the same time, or afterwards. Gamma decay as a separate phenomenon, with its own half-life (now termed
isomeric transition A nuclear isomer is a metastable state of an atomic nucleus, in which one or more nucleons (protons or neutrons) occupy higher energy levels than in the ground state of the same nucleus. "Metastable" describes nuclei whose excited states have half ...
), was found in natural radioactivity to be a result of the gamma decay of excited metastable
nuclear isomer A nuclear isomer is a metastable state of an atomic nucleus, in which one or more nucleons (protons or neutrons) occupy higher energy levels than in the ground state of the same nucleus. "Metastable" describes nuclei whose excited states have half ...
s, which were in turn created from other types of decay. Although alpha, beta, and gamma radiations were most commonly found, other types of emission were eventually discovered. Shortly after the discovery of the
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1 ''e'', a spin of 1/2 (the same as the electron), and has the same mass as an electron. When a positron ...
in cosmic ray products, it was realized that the same process that operates in classical
beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
can also produce positrons (
positron emission Positron emission or beta plus decay (β+ decay) is a subtype of radioactive decay called beta decay, in which a proton inside a radionuclide nucleus is converted into a neutron while releasing a positron and an electron neutrino (''ν''e). Positro ...
), along with
neutrino A neutrino ( or ) (denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass i ...
s (classical beta decay produces antineutrinos). In a more common analogous process, called
electron capture Electron capture (K-electron capture, also K-capture, or L-electron capture, L-capture) is a process in which the proton-rich nucleus of an electrically neutral atom absorbs an inner atomic electron, usually from the K or L electron shells. This ...

electron capture
, some proton-rich nuclides were found to capture their own atomic electrons instead of emitting positrons, and subsequently, these nuclides emit only a neutrino and a gamma ray from the excited nucleus (and often also
Auger electron The Auger effect is a physical phenomenon in which the filling of an inner-shell vacancy of an atom is accompanied by the emission of an electron from the same atom. When a core electron is removed, leaving a vacancy, an electron from a higher ener ...
s and
characteristic X-rayCharacteristic X-rays are emitted when outer-shell electrons fill a vacancy in the inner shell of an atom, releasing X-rays in a pattern that is "characteristic" to each element. Characteristic X-rays were discovered by Charles Glover Barkla in 1909, ...
s, as a result of the re-ordering of electrons to fill the place of the missing captured electron). These types of decay involve the nuclear capture of electrons or emission of electrons or positrons, and thus acts to move a nucleus toward the ratio of neutrons to protons that has the least energy for a given total number of
nucleon In chemistry and physics, a nucleon is either a proton or a neutron, considered in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus. The number of nucleons in a nucleus defines an isotope's mass number (nucleon number). Until the 1960s, nucleons were ...
s. This consequently produces a more stable (lower energy) nucleus. (A theoretical process of positron capture, analogous to electron capture, is possible in antimatter atoms, but has not been observed, as complex antimatter atoms beyond
antihelium In modern physics, antimatter is defined as matter that is composed of the antiparticles (or "partners") of the corresponding particles of "ordinary" matter. Minuscule numbers of antiparticles are generated daily at particle acceleratorstotal ...
are not experimentally available. Such a decay would require antimatter atoms at least as complex as
beryllium-7 Beryllium (4Be) has 11 known isotopes and 3 known isomers, but only one of these isotopes () is stable and a primordial nuclide. As such, beryllium is considered a monoisotopic element. It is also a mononuclidic element, because its other isotope ...
, which is the lightest known isotope of normal matter to undergo decay by electron capture.) Shortly after the discovery of the
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave si ...
in 1932,
Enrico Fermi Enrico Fermi (; 29 September 1901 - 28 November 1954) was an Italian (later naturalized American) physicist and the creator of the world's first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1. He has been called the "architect of the nuclear age" and the ...
realized that certain rare beta-decay reactions immediately yield neutrons as a decay particle (
neutron emission Neutron emission is a mode of radioactive decay in which one or more neutrons are ejected from a nucleus. It occurs in the most neutron-rich/proton-deficient nuclides, and also from excited states of other nuclides as in photoneutron emission and be ...
). Isolated
proton emission Proton emission (also known as proton radioactivity) is a rare type of radioactive decay in which a proton is ejected from a nucleus. Proton emission can occur from high-lying excited states in a nucleus following a beta decay, in which case t ...
was eventually observed in some elements. It was also found that some heavy elements may undergo
spontaneous fission Spontaneous fission (SF) is a form of radioactive decay that is found only in very heavy chemical elements. The nuclear binding energy of the elements reaches its maximum at an atomic mass number of about 56; spontaneous breakdown into smaller nucl ...
into products that vary in composition. In a phenomenon called
cluster decay Cluster decay, also named heavy particle radioactivity or heavy ion radioactivity, is a rare type of nuclear decay in which an atomic nucleus emits a small "cluster" of neutrons and protons, more than in an alpha particle, but less than a typica ...
, specific combinations of neutrons and protons other than alpha particles (helium nuclei) were found to be spontaneously emitted from atoms. Other types of radioactive decay were found to emit previously seen particles but via different mechanisms. An example is
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive decay process wherein an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with one of the orbital electrons of the atom. This causes the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in an internal conv ...
, which results in an initial electron emission, and then often further
characteristic X-rayCharacteristic X-rays are emitted when outer-shell electrons fill a vacancy in the inner shell of an atom, releasing X-rays in a pattern that is "characteristic" to each element. Characteristic X-rays were discovered by Charles Glover Barkla in 1909, ...
s and
Auger electron The Auger effect is a physical phenomenon in which the filling of an inner-shell vacancy of an atom is accompanied by the emission of an electron from the same atom. When a core electron is removed, leaving a vacancy, an electron from a higher ener ...
s emissions, although the internal conversion process involves neither beta nor gamma decay. A neutrino is not emitted, and none of the electron(s) and photon(s) emitted originate in the nucleus, even though the energy to emit all of them does originate there. Internal conversion decay, like
isomeric transition A nuclear isomer is a metastable state of an atomic nucleus, in which one or more nucleons (protons or neutrons) occupy higher energy levels than in the ground state of the same nucleus. "Metastable" describes nuclei whose excited states have half ...
gamma decay and neutron emission, involves the release of energy by an excited nuclide, without the transmutation of one element into another. Rare events that involve a combination of two beta-decay-type events happening simultaneously are known (see below). Any decay process that does not violate the conservation of energy or momentum laws (and perhaps other particle conservation laws) is permitted to happen, although not all have been detected. An interesting example discussed in a final section, is bound state beta decay of rhenium-187. In this process, the beta electron-decay of the parent nuclide is not accompanied by beta electron emission, because the beta particle has been captured into the K-shell of the emitting atom. An antineutrino is emitted, as in all negative beta decays. Radionuclides can undergo a number of different reactions. These are summarized in the following table. A nucleus with
mass number The mass number (symbol ''A'', from the German word ''Atomgewicht'' tomic weight, also called atomic mass number or nucleon number, is the total number of protons and neutrons (together known as nucleons) in an atomic nucleus. It is approximately ...
''A'' and
atomic number 300px, The Rutherford–Bohr model of the hydrogen atom () or a hydrogen-like ion (). In this model it is an essential feature that the photon energy (or frequency) of the electromagnetic radiation emitted (shown) when an electron jumps from one ...
''Z'' is represented as (''A'', ''Z''). The column "Daughter nucleus" indicates the difference between the new nucleus and the original nucleus. Thus, (''A'' − 1, ''Z'') means that the mass number is one less than before, but the atomic number is the same as before. If energy circumstances are favorable, a given radionuclide may undergo many competing types of decay, with some atoms decaying by one route, and others decaying by another. An example is
copper-64 Copper-64 (64Cu) is a positron emitting isotope of copper, with applications for molecular radiotherapy and positron emission tomography. Properties 64Cu has a half-life of 12.701 ± 0.002 hours and decays by 17.86 (± 0.14)% by positron emission ...
, which has 29 protons, and 35 neutrons, which decays with a half-life of about 12.7 hours. This isotope has one unpaired proton and one unpaired neutron, so either the proton or the neutron can decay to the other particle, which has opposite
isospin In nuclear physics and particle physics, isospin (''I'') is a quantum number related to the up- and down quark content of the particle. More specifically, isospin symmetry is a subset of the flavour symmetry seen more broadly in the interactions of ...
. This particular nuclide (though not all nuclides in this situation) is almost equally likely to decay through
positron emission Positron emission or beta plus decay (β+ decay) is a subtype of radioactive decay called beta decay, in which a proton inside a radionuclide nucleus is converted into a neutron while releasing a positron and an electron neutrino (''ν''e). Positro ...
(18%), or through
electron capture Electron capture (K-electron capture, also K-capture, or L-electron capture, L-capture) is a process in which the proton-rich nucleus of an electrically neutral atom absorbs an inner atomic electron, usually from the K or L electron shells. This ...

electron capture
(43%), as it does through electron emission (39%). The excited energy states resulting from these decays which fail to end in a ground energy state, also produce later
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive decay process wherein an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with one of the orbital electrons of the atom. This causes the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in an internal conv ...
and
gamma decay A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highe ...
in almost 0.5% of the time. More common in heavy nuclides is competition between alpha and beta decay. The daughter nuclides will then normally decay through beta or alpha, respectively, to end up in the same place. Radioactive decay results in a reduction of summed rest
mass Mass is both a property of a physical body and a measure of its resistance to acceleration (rate of change of velocity with respect to time) when a net force is applied. An object's mass also determines the strength of its gravitational attra ...
, once the released energy (the ''disintegration energy'') has escaped in some way. Although
decay energy The decay energy is the energy released by a radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting ionizing particles and radiation. This decay, or loss of energy, results in an atom of on ...
is sometimes defined as associated with the difference between the mass of the parent nuclide products and the mass of the decay products, this is true only of rest mass measurements, where some energy has been removed from the product system. This is true because the decay energy must always carry mass with it, wherever it appears (see
mass in special relativity The word ''mass'' has two meanings in special relativity: ''invariant mass'' (also called rest mass) is an invariant quantity which is the same for all observers in all reference frames; while the ''relativistic mass'' is dependent on the velocity ...
) according to the formula ''E'' = ''mc''2. The decay energy is initially released as the energy of emitted photons plus the kinetic energy of massive emitted particles (that is, particles that have rest mass). If these particles come to
thermal equilibrium Two physical systems are in thermal equilibrium if there is no net flow of thermal energy between them when they are connected by a path permeable to heat. Thermal equilibrium obeys the zeroth law of thermodynamics. A system is said to be in t ...
with their surroundings and photons are absorbed, then the decay energy is transformed to thermal energy, which retains its mass. Decay energy, therefore, remains associated with a certain measure of the mass of the decay system, called
invariant mass Invariant and invariance may refer to: Computer science * Invariant (computer science), an expression whose value doesn't change during program execution ** Loop invariant, invariants used to prove properties of loops * A data type in method overri ...
, which does not change during the decay, even though the energy of decay is distributed among decay particles. The energy of photons, the kinetic energy of emitted particles, and, later, the thermal energy of the surrounding matter, all contribute to the
invariant mass Invariant and invariance may refer to: Computer science * Invariant (computer science), an expression whose value doesn't change during program execution ** Loop invariant, invariants used to prove properties of loops * A data type in method overri ...
of the system. Thus, while the sum of the rest masses of the particles is not conserved in radioactive decay, the ''system'' mass and system
invariant mass Invariant and invariance may refer to: Computer science * Invariant (computer science), an expression whose value doesn't change during program execution ** Loop invariant, invariants used to prove properties of loops * A data type in method overri ...
(and also the system total energy) is conserved throughout any decay process. This is a restatement of the equivalent laws of
conservation of energy In physics and chemistry, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant; it is said to be ''conserved'' over time. This law, first proposed and tested by Émilie du Châtelet, means that ene ...
and
conservation of mass In physics and chemistry, the law of conservation of mass or principle of mass conservation states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as the system's mass canno ...
.


Modes


Rates

The ''decay rate'', or ''activity'', of a radioactive substance is characterized by: Constant quantities: * The ''
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
'', is the time taken for the activity of a given amount of a radioactive substance to decay to half of its initial value; see
List of nuclides This list of nuclides shows observed nuclides that either are stable or, if radioactive, have half-lives longer than one hour. This represents isotopes of the first 105 elements, except for elements 87 (francium) and 102 (nobelium). At least 3,300 ...
. * The ''
decay constant Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
'' , "
lambda Lambda (; uppercase , lowercase ; el, λάμ(β)δα, ''lám(b)da'') is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet, representing the sound /l/. In the system of Greek numerals lambda has a value of 30. Lambda is derived from the Phoenician Lamed . ...
" the reciprocal of the mean lifetime (in '), sometimes referred to as simply ''decay rate''. * The ''
mean lifetime Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
'' , " tau" the average lifetime (1/ e life) of a radioactive particle before decay. Although these are constants, they are associated with the statistical behavior of populations of atoms. In consequence, predictions using these constants are less accurate for minuscule samples of atoms. In principle a half-life, a third-life, or even a (1/)-life, can be used in exactly the same way as half-life; but the mean life and half-life have been adopted as standard times associated with exponential decay. Time-variable quantities: * ''Total activity'', is the number of decays per unit time of a radioactive sample. * ''Number of particles'', is the total
number of particles The particle number (or number of particles) of a thermodynamic system, conventionally indicated with the letter ''N'', is the number of constituent particles in that system. The particle number is a fundamental parameter in thermodynamics which i ...
in the sample. * ''Specific activity'', number of decays per unit time per amount of substance of the sample at time set to zero (''t'' = 0). "Amount of substance" can be the mass, volume or moles of the initial sample. These are related as follows: : t_ = \frac = \tau \ln(2) : A = - \frac = \lambda N : S_A a_0 = - \frac\bigg, _ = \lambda N_0 where ''N''0 is the initial amount of active substance — substance that has the same percentage of unstable particles as when the substance was formed.


Mathematics


Universal law

The mathematics of radioactive decay depend on a key assumption that a nucleus of a radionuclide has no "memory" or way of translating its history into its present behavior. A nucleus does not "age" with the passage of time. Thus, the probability of its breaking down does not increase with time but stays constant, no matter how long the nucleus has existed. This constant probability may differ greatly between one type of nuclei and another, leading to the many different observed decay rates. However, whatever the probability is, it does not change over time. This is in marked contrast to complex objects which do show aging, such as automobiles and humans. These aging systems do have a chance of breakdown per unit of time that increases from the moment they begin their existence. Aggregate processes, like the radioactive decay of a lump of atoms, for which the single event probability of realization is very small but in which the number of time-slices is so large that there is nevertheless a reasonable rate of events, are modelled by the
Poisson distribution In probability theory and statistics, the Poisson distribution (; ), named after French mathematician Siméon Denis Poisson, is a discrete probability distribution that expresses the probability of a given number of events occurring in a fixed int ...
, which is discrete. Radioactive decay and nuclear particle reactions are two examples of such aggregate processes. The mathematics of Poisson processes reduce to the law of
exponential decay Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
, which describes the statistical behaviour of a large number of nuclei, rather than one individual nucleus. In the following formalism, the number of nuclei or the nuclei population ''N'', is of course a discrete variable (a
natural number In mathematics, the natural numbers are those used for counting (as in "there are ''six'' coins on the table") and ordering (as in "this is the ''third'' largest city in the country"). In common mathematical terminology, words colloquially used ...
)—but for any physical sample ''N'' is so large that it can be treated as a continuous variable.
Differential calculus In mathematics, differential calculus is a subfield of calculus that studies the rates at which quantities change. It is one of the two traditional divisions of calculus, the other being integral calculus—the study of the area beneath a curve. ...
is used to model the behaviour of nuclear decay.


One-decay process

Consider the case of a nuclide that decays into another by some process (emission of other particles, like
electron neutrino The electron neutrino () is a subatomic lepton elementary particle which has zero net electric charge. Together with the electron and quark, it forms the first generation of leptons, hence the name electron neutrino. It was first hypothesized by W ...
s and
electron The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because the ...
s e as in
beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
, are irrelevant in what follows). The decay of an unstable nucleus is entirely random in time so it is impossible to predict when a particular atom will decay. However, it is equally likely to decay at any instant in time. Therefore, given a sample of a particular radioisotope, the number of decay events expected to occur in a small interval of time is proportional to the number of atoms present , that is : - \frac \propto N Particular radionuclides decay at different rates, so each has its own decay constant . The expected decay is proportional to an increment of time, : The negative sign indicates that decreases as time increases, as the decay events follow one after another. The solution to this first-order
differential equation In mathematics, a differential equation is an equation that relates one or more functions and their derivatives. In applications, the functions generally represent physical quantities, the derivatives represent their rates of change, and the diffe ...
is the
function Function or functionality may refer to: Computing * Function key, a type of key on computer keyboards * Function model, a structured representation of processes in a system * Function object or functor or functionoid, a concept of object-oriented ...
: :N(t) = N_0\,e^ where is the value of at time = 0, with the decay constant expressed as We have for all time : : N_A + N_B = N_\mathrm = N_, where is the constant number of particles throughout the decay process, which is equal to the initial number of nuclides since this is the initial substance. If the number of non-decayed nuclei is: :N_A = N_e^ then the number of nuclei of , i.e. the number of decayed nuclei, is : N_B = N_ - N_A = N_ - N_e^ = N_ \left ( 1 - e^ \right ). The number of decays observed over a given interval obeys
Poisson statistics In probability theory and statistics, the Poisson distribution (; ), named after French mathematician Siméon Denis Poisson, is a discrete probability distribution that expresses the probability of a given number of events occurring in a fixed int ...
. If the average number of decays is , the probability of a given number of decays is : P(N) = \frac .


Chain-decay processes

Chain of two decays Now consider the case of a chain of two decays: one nuclide decaying into another by one process, then decaying into another by a second process, i.e. '. The previous equation cannot be applied to the decay chain, but can be generalized as follows. Since decays into , ''then'' decays into , the activity of adds to the total number of nuclides in the present sample, ''before'' those nuclides decay and reduce the number of nuclides leading to the later sample. In other words, the number of second generation nuclei increases as a result of the first generation nuclei decay of , and decreases as a result of its own decay into the third generation nuclei .Introductory Nuclear Physics, K.S. Krane, 1988, John Wiley & Sons Inc, The sum of these two terms gives the law for a decay chain for two nuclides: :\frac = -\lambda_B N_B + \lambda_A N_A. The rate of change of , that is , is related to the changes in the amounts of and , can increase as is produced from and decrease as produces . Re-writing using the previous results: The subscripts simply refer to the respective nuclides, i.e. is the number of nuclides of type ; is the initial number of nuclides of type ; is the decay constant for – and similarly for nuclide . Solving this equation for gives: : N_B = \frac \left ( e^ - e^\right ) . In the case where is a stable nuclide ( = 0), this equation reduces to the previous solution: : \lim_ \left \frac \left ( e^ - e^\right ) \right = \frac \left ( e^ - 1 \right ) = N_ \left ( 1- e^ \right ), as shown above for one decay. The solution can be found by the integration factor method, where the integrating factor is . This case is perhaps the most useful since it can derive both the one-decay equation (above) and the equation for multi-decay chains (below) more directly. Chain of any number of decays For the general case of any number of consecutive decays in a decay chain, i.e. , where is the number of decays and is a dummy index (), each nuclide population can be found in terms of the previous population. In this case , ,..., . Using the above result in a recursive form: : \frac = - \lambda_j N_j + \lambda_ N_ e^. The general solution to the recursive problem is given by ''Bateman's equations'':


Alternative modes

In all of the above examples, the initial nuclide decays into just one product. Consider the case of one initial nuclide that can decay into either of two products, that is ' and ' in parallel. For example, in a sample of
potassium-40 Potassium-40 (40K) is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a long half-life of 1.251 years. It makes up 0.012% (120 ppm) of the total amount of potassium found in nature. Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope that undergoes both ty ...
, 89.3% of the nuclei decay to
calcium-40 Calcium (20Ca) has 26 known isotopes, ranging from 35Ca to 60Ca. There are five stable isotopes (40Ca, 42Ca, 43Ca, 44Ca and 46Ca), plus one isotope (48Ca) with such a long half-life that for all practical purposes it can be considered stable. The ...
and 10.7% to
argon-40 Argon (18Ar) has 26 known isotopes, from 29Ar to 54Ar and 1 isomer (32mAr), of which three are stable (36Ar, 38Ar, and 40Ar). On the Earth, 40Ar makes up 99.6% of natural argon. The longest-lived radioactive isotopes are 39Ar with a half-life of 26 ...
. We have for all time : : N = N_A + N_B + N_C which is constant, since the total number of nuclides remains constant. Differentiating with respect to time: : \begin \frac & = - \left(\frac + \frac \right) \\ - \lambda N_A & = - N_A \left ( \lambda_B + \lambda_C \right ) \\ \end defining the ''total decay constant'' in terms of the sum of ''partial decay constants'' and : : \lambda = \lambda_B + \lambda_C . Solving this equation for : : N_A = N_ e^ . where is the initial number of nuclide A. When measuring the production of one nuclide, one can only observe the total decay constant . The decay constants and determine the probability for the decay to result in products or as follows: : N_B = \frac N_ \left ( 1 - e^ \right ), : N_C = \frac N_ \left ( 1 - e^ \right ). because the fraction of nuclei decay into while the fraction of nuclei decay into .


Corollaries of laws

The above equations can also be written using quantities related to the number of nuclide particles in a sample; * The activity: . * The
amount of substance In chemistry, the amount of substance in a given sample of matter is defined as the number of discrete atomic-scale particles in it divided by the Avogadro constant ''N''A. In a truly atomistic view, the amount of substance is simply the number of p ...
: . * The
mass Mass is both a property of a physical body and a measure of its resistance to acceleration (rate of change of velocity with respect to time) when a net force is applied. An object's mass also determines the strength of its gravitational attra ...
: . where = is the
Avogadro constant The Avogadro constant (''N''A or ''L'') is the proportionality factor that relates the number of constituent particles (usually molecules, atoms or ions) in a sample with the amount of substance in that sample. Its SI unit is the reciprocal mol ...
, is the
molar mass#REDIRECT Molar mass#REDIRECT Molar mass {{R from other capitalisation ...
{{R from other capitalisation ...
of the substance in kg/mol, and the amount of the substance is in moles.


Decay timing: definitions and relations


Time constant and mean-life

For the one-decay solution ': :N = N_0\,e^ = N_0\,e^, \,\! the equation indicates that the
decay constant Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
has units of ', and can thus also be represented as 1/, where is a characteristic time of the process called the ''
time constantIn physics and engineering, the time constant, usually denoted by the Greek letter (tau), is the parameter characterizing the response to a step input of a first-order, linear time-invariant (LTI) system.Concretely, a first-order LTI system is a sys ...
''. In a radioactive decay process, this time constant is also the
mean lifetime Image:Plot-exponential-decay.svg, upright=1.5, A quantity undergoing exponential decay. Larger decay constants make the quantity vanish much more rapidly. This plot shows decay for decay constant (λ) of 25, 5, 1, 1/5, and 1/25 for x from 0 to 5. A ...
for decaying atoms. Each atom "lives" for a finite amount of time before it decays, and it may be shown that this mean lifetime is the
arithmetic mean In mathematics and statistics, the arithmetic mean (, stress on first and third syllables of "arithmetic"), or simply the mean or the average (when the context is clear), is the sum of a collection of numbers divided by the count of numbers in the ...
of all the atoms' lifetimes, and that it is , which again is related to the decay constant as follows: :\tau = \frac. This form is also true for two-decay processes simultaneously ', inserting the equivalent values of decay constants (as given above) : \lambda = \lambda_B + \lambda_C \, into the decay solution leads to: :\frac = \lambda = \lambda_B + \lambda_C = \frac + \frac\,


Half-life

A more commonly used parameter is the
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
. Given a sample of a particular radionuclide, the half-life is the time taken for half the radionuclide's atoms to decay. For the case of one-decay nuclear reactions: :N = N_0\,e^ = N_0\,e^, \,\! the half-life is related to the decay constant as follows: set ' and = to obtain :t_ = \frac = \tau \ln 2. This relationship between the half-life and the decay constant shows that highly radioactive substances are quickly spent, while those that radiate weakly endure longer. Half-lives of known radionuclides vary widely, from more than 1024 years for the very nearly stable nuclide 128Te, to 2.3 x 10−23 seconds for highly unstable nuclides such as 7H. The factor of in the above relations results from the fact that the concept of "half-life" is merely a way of selecting a different base other than the natural base for the lifetime expression. The time constant is the -life, the time until only 1/''e'' remains, about 36.8%, rather than the 50% in the half-life of a radionuclide. Thus, is longer than . The following equation can be shown to be valid: :N(t) = N_0\,e^ =N_0\,2^. \,\! Since radioactive decay is exponential with a constant probability, each process could as easily be described with a different constant time period that (for example) gave its "(1/3)-life" (how long until only 1/3 is left) or "(1/10)-life" (a time period until only 10% is left), and so on. Thus, the choice of and ' for marker-times, are only for convenience, and from convention. They reflect a fundamental principle only in so much as they show that the ''same proportion'' of a given radioactive substance will decay, during any time-period that one chooses. Mathematically, the life for the above situation would be found in the same way as aboveby setting ', and substituting into the decay solution to obtain :t_ = \frac = \tau \ln n.


Example for carbon-14

Carbon-14 Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleag ...
has a half-life of 5,730 years and a decay rate of 14 disintegrations per minute (dpm) per gram of natural carbon. If an artifact is found to have radioactivity of 4 dpm per gram of its present C, we can find the approximate age of the object using the above equation: : N = N_0\,e^, where: \frac = 4/14 \approx 0.286, : \tau = \frac \approx 8267 years, : t = -\tau\,\ln\frac \approx 10356 years.


Changing rates

The radioactive decay modes of
electron capture Electron capture (K-electron capture, also K-capture, or L-electron capture, L-capture) is a process in which the proton-rich nucleus of an electrically neutral atom absorbs an inner atomic electron, usually from the K or L electron shells. This ...

electron capture
and
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive decay process wherein an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with one of the orbital electrons of the atom. This causes the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in an internal conv ...
are known to be slightly sensitive to chemical and environmental effects that change the electronic structure of the atom, which in turn affects the presence of 1s and 2s electrons that participate in the decay process. A small number of mostly light nuclides are affected. For example,
chemical bonds A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms, ions or molecules that enables the formation of chemical compounds. The bond may result from the electrostatic force of attraction between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds or throug ...
can affect the rate of electron capture to a small degree (in general, less than 1%) depending on the proximity of electrons to the nucleus. In 7Be, a difference of 0.9% has been observed between half-lives in metallic and insulating environments. This relatively large effect is because beryllium is a small atom whose valence electrons are in 2s
atomic orbital In atomic theory and quantum mechanics, an atomic orbital is a mathematical function describing the location and wave-like behavior of an electron in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an at ...
s, which are subject to electron capture in 7Be because (like all s atomic orbitals in all atoms) they naturally penetrate into the nucleus. In 1992, Jung et al. of the Darmstadt Heavy-Ion Research group observed an accelerated β decay of 163Dy66+. Although neutral 163Dy is a stable isotope, the fully ionized 163Dy66+ undergoes β decay into the K and L shells to 163Ho66+ with a half-life of 47 days. Rhenium-187 is another spectacular example. 187Re normally
beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
s to 187Os with a
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
of 41.6 × 109 years, but studies using fully ionised 187 atoms (bare nuclei) have found that this can decrease to only 32.9 years. This is attributed to " bound-state β decay" of the fully ionised atom – the electron is emitted into the "K-shell" (1s atomic orbital), which cannot occur for neutral atoms in which all low-lying bound states are occupied. A number of experiments have found that decay rates of other modes of artificial and naturally occurring radioisotopes are, to a high degree of precision, unaffected by external conditions such as temperature, pressure, the chemical environment, and electric, magnetic, or gravitational fields. Comparison of laboratory experiments over the last century, studies of the Oklo
natural nuclear reactor A fossil natural nuclear fission reactor is a uranium deposit where self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions have occurred. This can be examined by analysis of isotope ratios. The conditions under which a natural nuclear reactor could exist had been ...
(which exemplified the effects of thermal neutrons on nuclear decay), and astrophysical observations of the luminosity decays of distant supernovae (which occurred far away so the light has taken a great deal of time to reach us), for example, strongly indicate that unperturbed decay rates have been constant (at least to within the limitations of small experimental errors) as a function of time as well. Recent results suggest the possibility that decay rates might have a weak dependence on environmental factors. It has been suggested that measurements of decay rates of silicon-32, manganese-54, and
radium-226 Radium (88Ra) has no stable or nearly stable isotopes, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. The longest lived, and most common, isotope of radium is 226Ra with a half-life of . 226Ra occurs in the decay chain of 238U (often referred to ...
exhibit small seasonal variations (of the order of 0.1%). However, such measurements are highly susceptible to systematic errors, and a subsequent paper has found no evidence for such correlations in seven other isotopes (22Na, 44Ti, 108Ag, 121Sn, 133Ba, 241Am, 238Pu), and sets upper limits on the size of any such effects. The decay of
radon-222 Radon-222 (222Rn, Rn-222, historically radium emanation or radon) is the most stable isotope of radon, with a half-life of approximately 3.8 days. It is transient in the decay chain of primordial uranium-238 and is the immediate decay product of r ...
was once reported to exhibit large 4% peak-to-peak seasonal variations (see plot), which were proposed to be related to either
solar flare A solar flare is a sudden flash of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near its surface and in close proximity to a sunspot group. Powerful flares are often, but not always, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection. Even the most ...
activity or the distance from the Sun, but detailed analysis of the experiment's design flaws, along with comparisons to other, much more stringent and systematically controlled, experiments refute this claim.


GSI anomaly

An unexpected series of experimental results for the rate of decay of heavy highly charged
radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is conside ...

radioactive
ion An ion () is a particle, atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of the electron is considered negative by convention. The negative charge of an ion is equal and opposite to charged proton(s) considered positive by convent ...
s circulating in a
storage ring facility. In the middle of the storage ring is the booster ring and linac A storage ring is a type of circular particle accelerator in which a continuous or pulsed particle beam may be kept circulating typically for many hours. Storage of a partic ...

storage ring
has provoked theoretical activity in an effort to find a convincing explanation. The rates of weak decay of two radioactive species with half lives of about 40 s and 200 s are found to have a significant
oscillatory Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically in time, of some measure about a central value (often a point of equilibrium) or between two or more different states. The term ''vibration'' is precisely used to describe mechanical oscillation. ...
modulation In electronics and telecommunications, modulation is the process of varying one or more properties of a periodic waveform, called the ''carrier signal'', with a separate signal called the ''modulation signal'' that typically contains information ...
, with a period of about 7 s. The observed phenomenon is known as the GSI anomaly, as the storage ring is a facility at the
GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research The GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research (german: GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung) is a federally and state co-funded heavy ion () research center in the Wixhausen suburb of Darmstadt, Germany. It was founded in 1969 as the ...
in
Darmstadt Darmstadt (, also , , ) is a city in the state of Hesse in Germany, located in the southern part of the Rhine-Main-Area (Frankfurt Metropolitan Region). Darmstadt has around 160,000 inhabitants, making it the fourth largest city in the state o ...
,
Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , languages_type = Official language , languages = German , demonym = German , government_type = Federal parliamentary republi ...
. As the decay process produces an
electron neutrino The electron neutrino () is a subatomic lepton elementary particle which has zero net electric charge. Together with the electron and quark, it forms the first generation of leptons, hence the name electron neutrino. It was first hypothesized by W ...
, some of the proposed explanations for the observed rate oscillation invoke neutrino properties. Initial ideas related to flavour oscillation met with skepticism. A more recent proposal involves mass differences between neutrino mass
eigenstates In quantum physics, a quantum state is a mathematical entity that provides a probability distribution for the outcomes of each possible measurement on a system. Knowledge of the quantum state together with the rules for the system's evolution in ti ...
.


Theoretical basis

The
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave si ...
s and
proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approximately one atomic mass unit, are collecti ...
s that constitute nuclei, as well as other particles that approach close enough to them, are governed by several interactions. The
strong nuclear force In nuclear physics and particle physics, the strong interaction is the mechanism responsible for the strong nuclear force, and is one of the four known fundamental interactions, with the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction, and ...
, not observed at the familiar
macroscopic The macroscopic scale is the length scale on which objects or phenomena are large enough to be visible with the naked eye, without magnifying optical instruments. It is the opposite of microscopic. Overview When applied to physical phenomena and ...
scale, is the most powerful force over subatomic distances. The
electrostatic force ''F'' between two point charges ''q''1 and ''q''2 is directly proportional to the product of the magnitudes of charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Like charges repel each other, and opposite charges mut ...
is almost always significant, and, in the case of
beta decay (the accompanying antineutrino is omitted). The inset shows beta decay of a free neutron. Neither of these depictions shows the intermediate virtual boson. In nuclear physics, beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a ...
, the
weak nuclear force In nuclear physics and particle physics, the weak interaction, which is also often called the weak force or weak nuclear force, is the mechanism of interaction between subatomic particles that is responsible for the radioactive decay of atoms. ...
is also involved. The combined effects of these forces produces a number of different phenomena in which energy may be released by rearrangement of particles in the nucleus, or else the change of one type of particle into others. These rearrangements and transformations may be hindered energetically so that they do not occur immediately. In certain cases, random quantum vacuum fluctuations are theorized to promote relaxation to a lower energy state (the "decay") in a phenomenon known as
quantum tunneling In physics, a quantum (plural quanta) is the minimum amount of any physical entity (physical property) involved in an interaction. The fundamental notion that a physical property can be "quantized" is referred to as "the hypothesis of quantizatio ...
. Radioactive decay
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
of nuclides has been measured over timescales of 55 orders of magnitude, from 2.3 × 10−23 seconds (for
hydrogen-7 Hydrogen (1H) has three naturally occurring isotopes, sometimes denoted 1H, 2H, and 3H. The first two of these are stable, while 3H has a half-life of 12.32 years. There are also heavier isotopes, which are all synthetic and have a half-life les ...
) to 6.9 × 1031 seconds (for
tellurium-128 There are 39 known isotopes and 17 nuclear isomers of tellurium (52Te), with atomic masses that range from 104 to 142. These are listed in the table below. Naturally-occurring tellurium on Earth consists of eight isotopes. Two of these have been f ...
). The limits of these timescales are set by the sensitivity of instrumentation only, and there are no known natural limits to how brief or long a decay
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
for radioactive decay of a
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transferred ...
may be. The decay process, like all hindered energy transformations, may be analogized by a snowfield on a mountain. While
friction Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction: *Dry friction is a force that opposes the relative lateral motion of two ...
between the ice crystals may be supporting the snow's weight, the system is inherently unstable with regard to a state of lower potential energy. A disturbance would thus facilitate the path to a state of greater
entropy Entropy is a scientific concept, as well as a measurable physical property that is most commonly associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. The term and the concept are used in diverse fields, from classical thermodynamic ...
; the system will move towards the ground state, producing heat, and the total energy will be distributable over a larger number of
quantum states In quantum physics, a quantum state is a mathematical entity that provides a probability distribution for the outcomes of each possible measurement on a system. Knowledge of the quantum state together with the rules for the system's evolution in ti ...
thus resulting in an
avalanche An avalanche (also called a snowslide) is a rapid flow of snow down a slope, such as a hill or mountain. Avalanches can be set off spontaneously, by such factors as increased precipitation or snowpack weakening, or by external means such as hum ...
. The ''total'' energy does not change in this process, but, because of the
second law of thermodynamics The second law of thermodynamics establishes the concept of entropy as a physical property of a thermodynamic system. Entropy predicts the direction of spontaneous processes, and determines whether they are irreversible or impossible, despite obey ...
, avalanches have only been observed in one direction and that is toward the "
ground state#REDIRECT Ground state#REDIRECT Ground state {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation ...
{{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation ...
" — the state with the largest number of ways in which the available energy could be distributed. Such a collapse (a gamma-ray ''decay event'') requires a specific
activation energy provide the activation energy to initiate combustion in this Bunsen burner. The blue flame sustains itself after the sparks stop because the continued combustion of the flame is now energetically favorable. In chemistry and physics, activation ene ...

activation energy
. For a snow avalanche, this energy comes as a disturbance from outside the system, although such disturbances can be arbitrarily small. In the case of an excited
atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the discovery of the neutron in 1 ...
decaying by gamma radiation in a
spontaneous emission Spontaneous emission is the process in which a quantum mechanical system (such as a molecule, an atom or a subatomic particle) transits from an excited energy state to a lower energy state (e.g., its ground state) and emits a quantized amount of e ...
of electromagnetic radiation, the arbitrarily small disturbance comes from quantum vacuum fluctuations. A radioactive nucleus (or any excited system in quantum mechanics) is unstable, and can, thus, ''spontaneously'' stabilize to a less-excited system. The resulting transformation alters the structure of the nucleus and results in the emission of either a photon or a high-velocity particle that has mass (such as an electron,
alpha particle Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced ...
, or other type).


Occurrence and applications

According to the
Big Bang theory The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model of the observable universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the universe expanded from an initial state of high den ...
, stable isotopes of the lightest five elements (,
He He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun), an English pronoun * He (kana), the romanization of the Japanese kana へ and ヘ * He (letter), the fifth letter of many Semitic alphabets * He (Cyrillic), a letter of the Cyrillic script called '' ...
, and traces of Li, Be, and B) were produced very shortly after the emergence of the universe, in a process called
Big Bang nucleosynthesis In physical cosmology, Big Bang nucleosynthesis (abbreviated BBN, also known as primordial nucleosynthesis, archeonucleosynthesis, archonucleosynthesis, protonucleosynthesis and paleonucleosynthesis) is the production of nuclei other than those o ...
. These lightest stable nuclides (including
deuterium Deuterium (or hydrogen-2, symbol or , also known as heavy hydrogen) is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen (the other being protium, or hydrogen-1). The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one neutron, wher ...
) survive to today, but any radioactive isotopes of the light elements produced in the Big Bang (such as
tritium Tritium ( or ) or hydrogen-3 (symbol T or H) is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium (sometimes called a triton) contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of the common isotope hydrogen-1 (''protium' ...
) have long since decayed. Isotopes of elements heavier than boron were not produced at all in the Big Bang, and these first five elements do not have any long-lived radioisotopes. Thus, all radioactive nuclei are, therefore, relatively young with respect to the birth of the universe, having formed later in various other types of
nucleosynthesis Nucleosynthesis is the process that creates new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons (protons and neutrons) and nuclei. According to current theories, the first nuclei were formed a few minutes after the Big Bang, through nuclear reactions in a ...
in
star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night, but due to their immense distance from ...

star
s (in particular,
supernova (bright spot on the lower left), a type Ia supernova within its host galaxy, NGC 4526 A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is a powerful and luminous stellar explosion. This transient astronomical event occ ...
e), and also during ongoing interactions between stable isotopes and energetic particles. For example,
carbon-14 Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleag ...
, a radioactive nuclide with a half-life of only 5,730 years, is constantly produced in Earth's upper atmosphere due to interactions between cosmic rays and nitrogen. Nuclides that are produced by radioactive decay are called
radiogenic nuclide A radiogenic nuclide is a nuclide that is produced by a process of radioactive decay. It may itself be radioactive (a radionuclide) or stable (a stable nuclide). Radiogenic nuclides (more commonly referred to as radiogenic isotopes) form some of t ...
s, whether they themselves are
stable A stable is a building in which livestock, especially horses, are kept. It most commonly means a building that is divided into separate stalls for individual animals and livestock. There are many different types of stables in use today; the Am ...
or not. There exist stable radiogenic nuclides that were formed from short-lived
extinct radionuclide An extinct radionuclide is a radionuclide that was formed by nucleosynthesis before the formation of the Solar System, about 4.6 billion years ago, but has since decayed to virtually zero abundance and is no longer detectable as a primordial nuclide ...
s in the early solar system. The extra presence of these stable radiogenic nuclides (such as xenon-129 from extinct
iodine-129 Iodine-129 (129I) is a long-lived radioisotope of iodine which occurs naturally, but also is of special interest in the monitoring and effects of man-made nuclear fission decay products, where it serves as both tracer and potential radiological con ...
) against the background of primordial
stable nuclide Stable nuclides are nuclides that are not radioactive and so (unlike radionuclides) do not spontaneously undergo radioactive decay. When such nuclides are referred to in relation to specific elements, they are usually termed stable isotopes. The ...
s can be inferred by various means. Radioactive decay has been put to use in the technique of
radioisotopic labelingIsotopic labeling (or isotopic labelling) is a technique used to track the passage of an isotope (an atom with a detectable variation in neutron count) through a reaction, metabolic pathway, or cell. The reactant is 'labeled' by replacing specific at ...
, which is used to track the passage of a chemical substance through a complex system (such as a living
organism In biology, an organism (from Greek: ὀργανισμός, ''organismos'') is any individual contiguous system that embodies the properties of life. It is a synonym for "life form". Organisms are classified by taxonomy into groups such as ...
). A sample of the substance is synthesized with a high concentration of unstable atoms. The presence of the substance in one or another part of the system is determined by detecting the locations of decay events. On the premise that radioactive decay is truly
random In common parlance, randomness is the apparent or actual lack of pattern or predictability in events. A random sequence of events, symbols or steps often has no order and does not follow an intelligible pattern or combination. Individual ran ...
(rather than merely chaotic), it has been used in hardware random-number generators. Because the process is not thought to vary significantly in mechanism over time, it is also a valuable tool in estimating the absolute ages of certain materials. For geological materials, the radioisotopes and some of their decay products become trapped when a rock solidifies, and can then later be used (subject to many well-known qualifications) to estimate the date of the solidification. These include checking the results of several simultaneous processes and their products against each other, within the same sample. In a similar fashion, and also subject to qualification, the rate of formation of carbon-14 in various eras, the date of formation of organic matter within a certain period related to the isotope's half-life may be estimated, because the carbon-14 becomes trapped when the organic matter grows and incorporates the new carbon-14 from the air. Thereafter, the amount of carbon-14 in organic matter decreases according to decay processes that may also be independently cross-checked by other means (such as checking the carbon-14 in individual tree rings, for example).


Szilard–Chalmers effect

The Szilard–Chalmers effect is the breaking of a chemical bond as a result of a kinetic energy imparted from radioactive decay. It operates by the absorption of neutrons by an atom and subsequent emission of
gamma ray A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highe ...
s, often with significant amounts of kinetic energy. This kinetic energy, by
Newton's third law In classical mechanics, Newton's laws of motion are three laws that describe the relationship between the motion of an object and the forces acting on it. The first law states that an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a con ...
, pushes back on the decaying atom, which causes it to move with enough speed to break a chemical bond. This effect can be used to separate isotopes by chemical means. The Szilard–Chalmers effect was discovered in 1934 by
Leó Szilárd Leo Szilard (; hu, Szilárd Leó ; born Leó Spitz; February 11, 1898 – May 30, 1964) was a Hungarian-American physicist and inventor. He conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear fission reactor in 193 ...
and Thomas A. Chalmers. They observed that after bombardment by neutrons, the breaking of a bond in liquid ethyl iodide allowed radioactive iodine to be removed.


Origins of radioactive nuclides

Radioactive
primordial nuclide In geochemistry, geophysics and nuclear physics, primordial nuclides, also known as primordial isotopes, are nuclides found on Earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Primordial nuclides were present in the in ...
s found in the
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 71% is covered with water, mostly by oceans, seas, gulfs, an ...
are residues from ancient
supernova (bright spot on the lower left), a type Ia supernova within its host galaxy, NGC 4526 A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is a powerful and luminous stellar explosion. This transient astronomical event occ ...
explosions that occurred before the formation of the
solar system The Solar SystemCapitalization of the name varies. The International Astronomical Union, the authoritative body regarding astronomical nomenclature, specifies capitalizing the names of all individual astronomical objects but uses mixed "Solar ...

solar system
. They are the fraction of radionuclides that survived from that time, through the formation of the primordial solar
nebula " from the Eagle Nebula. Evidence from the Spitzer Telescope suggests that the pillars may already have been destroyed by a supernova explosion, but the light showing us the destruction will not reach the Earth for another millennium. A nebula (L ...
, through planet
accretion Accretion may refer to: Science * Accretion (astrophysics), the formation of planets and other bodies by collection of material through gravity * Accretion (meteorology), the process by which water vapor in clouds forms water droplets around nucle ...
, and up to the present time. The naturally occurring short-lived
radiogenic A radiogenic nuclide is a nuclide that is produced by a process of radioactive decay. It may itself be radioactive (a radionuclide) or stable (a stable nuclide). Radiogenic nuclides (more commonly referred to as radiogenic isotopes) form some of t ...
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transferred ...
s found in today's
rocks A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks form the Earth's outer solid layer, the ...
, are the daughters of those radioactive
primordial nuclide In geochemistry, geophysics and nuclear physics, primordial nuclides, also known as primordial isotopes, are nuclides found on Earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Primordial nuclides were present in the in ...
s. Another minor source of naturally occurring radioactive nuclides are
cosmogenic nuclide Cosmogenic nuclides (or cosmogenic isotopes) are rare nuclides (isotopes) created when a high-energy cosmic ray interacts with the nucleus of an ''in situ'' Solar System atom, causing nucleons (protons and neutrons) to be expelled from the atom (se ...
s, that are formed by cosmic ray bombardment of material in the Earth's
atmosphere An atmosphere (from the greek words ἀτμός ''(atmos)'', meaning 'vapour', and σφαῖρα ''(sphaira)'', meaning 'ball' or 'sphere') is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in pla ...
or crust. The decay of the radionuclides in rocks of the Earth's
mantle Mantle may refer to: *Mantle (geology), a layer in the interior of a planet ** The Earth's mantle *Mantle (clothing), a cloak-like garment worn mainly by women as fashionable outerwear **Mantle (vesture), an Eastern Orthodox vesture worn by monasti ...
and crust contribute significantly to
Earth's internal heat budget Earth's internal heat budget is fundamental to the thermal history of the Earth. The flow of heat from Earth's interior to the surface is estimated at 47±2 terawatts (TW)Davies, J. H., & Davies, D. R. (2010). Earth's surface heat flux. Solid Earth ...
.


Decay chains and multiple modes

The daughter nuclide of a decay event may also be unstable (radioactive). In this case, it too will decay, producing radiation. The resulting second daughter nuclide may also be radioactive. This can lead to a sequence of several decay events called a ''
decay chain In nuclear science, the decay chain refers to a series of radioactive decays of different radioactive decay products as a sequential series of transformations. It is also known as a "radioactive cascade". Most radioisotopes do not decay directly to ...
'' (see this article for specific details of important natural decay chains). Eventually, a stable nuclide is produced. Any decay daughters that are the result of an alpha decay will also result in helium atoms being created. An example is the natural decay chain of 238U: * Uranium-238 decays, through alpha-emission, with a
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable atoms sur ...
of 4.5 billion years to
thorium-234 Thorium (90Th) has seven naturally occurring isotopes but none are stable. One isotope, 232Th, is ''relatively'' stable, with a half-life of 1.405×1010 years, considerably longer than the age of the Earth, and even slightly longer than the general ...
* which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 24 days to
protactinium-234 Protactinium (91Pa) has no stable isotopes. The three naturally occurring isotopes allow a standard atomic weight to be given. Thirty radioisotopes of protactinium have been characterized, with the most stable being 231Pa with a half-life of 32,7 ...
* which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 1.2 minutes to
uranium-234 Uranium-234 (234U, U-234) is an isotope of uranium. In natural uranium and in uranium ore, 234U occurs as an indirect decay product of uranium-238, but it makes up only 0.0055% (55 parts per million) of the raw uranium because its half-life of jus ...
* which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 240 thousand years to
thorium-230 Thorium (90Th) has seven naturally occurring isotopes but none are stable. One isotope, 232Th, is ''relatively'' stable, with a half-life of 1.405×1010 years, considerably longer than the age of the Earth, and even slightly longer than the general ...
* which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 77 thousand years to
radium-226 Radium (88Ra) has no stable or nearly stable isotopes, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. The longest lived, and most common, isotope of radium is 226Ra with a half-life of . 226Ra occurs in the decay chain of 238U (often referred to ...
* which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 1.6 thousand years to
radon-222 Radon-222 (222Rn, Rn-222, historically radium emanation or radon) is the most stable isotope of radon, with a half-life of approximately 3.8 days. It is transient in the decay chain of primordial uranium-238 and is the immediate decay product of r ...
* which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 3.8 days to polonium-218 * which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 3.1 minutes to lead-214 * which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 27 minutes to bismuth-214 * which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 20 minutes to polonium-214 * which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 160 microseconds to
lead-210 Lead (82Pb) has four stable isotopes: 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, 208Pb. Lead-204 is entirely a primordial nuclide and is not a radiogenic nuclide. The three isotopes lead-206, lead-207, and lead-208 represent the ends of three decay chains: the uranium ...
* which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 22 years to bismuth-210 * which decays, through beta-emission, with a half-life of 5 days to
polonium-210 Polonium-210 (210Po, Po-210, historically radium F) is an isotope of polonium. It undergoes alpha decay to stable 206Pb with a half-life of 138.376 days, the longest of all naturally occurring polonium isotopes. First identified in 1898, and also ma ...
* which decays, through alpha-emission, with a half-life of 140 days to
lead-206 Lead (82Pb) has four stable isotopes: 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, 208Pb. Lead-204 is entirely a primordial nuclide and is not a radiogenic nuclide. The three isotopes lead-206, lead-207, and lead-208 represent the ends of three decay chains: the uranium ...
, which is a stable nuclide. Some radionuclides may have several different paths of decay. For example, approximately 36% of bismuth-212 decays, through alpha-emission, to
thallium-208 Thallium (81Tl) has 41 isotopes with atomic masses that range from 176 to 216. 203Tl and 205Tl are the only stable isotopes and 204Tl is the most stable radioisotope with a half-life of 3.78 years. 207Tl, with a half-life of 4.77 minutes, has the lo ...
while approximately 64% of bismuth-212 decays, through beta-emission, to
polonium-212 Polonium (84Po) has 42 isotopes, all of which are radioactive, with between 186 and 227 nucleons. 210Po with a half-life of 138.376 days has the longest half-life of naturally occurring polonium. 209Po, with a half-life of 125.2 years, has the longe ...
. Both
thallium-208 Thallium (81Tl) has 41 isotopes with atomic masses that range from 176 to 216. 203Tl and 205Tl are the only stable isotopes and 204Tl is the most stable radioisotope with a half-life of 3.78 years. 207Tl, with a half-life of 4.77 minutes, has the lo ...
and
polonium-212 Polonium (84Po) has 42 isotopes, all of which are radioactive, with between 186 and 227 nucleons. 210Po with a half-life of 138.376 days has the longest half-life of naturally occurring polonium. 209Po, with a half-life of 125.2 years, has the longe ...
are radioactive daughter products of bismuth-212, and both decay directly to stable
lead-208 Lead (82Pb) has four stable isotopes: 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, 208Pb. Lead-204 is entirely a primordial nuclide and is not a radiogenic nuclide. The three isotopes lead-206, lead-207, and lead-208 represent the ends of three decay chains: the uranium ...
.


Hazard warning signs

file:Radioactive.svg, The trefoil symbol used to warn of presence of radioactive material or ionising radiation. File:Logo iso radiation.svg, 2007 ISO radioactivity danger symbol intended for IAEA Category 1, 2 and 3 sources defined as dangerous sources capable of death or serious injury.IAEA news release Feb 2007
/ref> File:Dangclass7.svg, The dangerous goods transport classification sign for radioactive materials


See also

*
Actinides in the environmentActinides in the environment refer to the sources, environmental behaviour and effects of actinides in Earth's environment. Environmental radioactivity is not limited solely to actinides; non-actinides such as radon and radium are of note. While all ...
*
Background radiation Background radiation is a measure of the level of ionizing radiation present in the environment at a particular location which is not due to deliberate introduction of radiation sources. Background radiation originates from a variety of sources, ...
*
Chernobyl disaster The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It is considered the worst nucle ...
* Crimes involving radioactive substances * Decay correction * Fallout shelter * Geiger counter * Induced radioactivity * Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents * National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements * Nuclear engineering * Nuclear pharmacy * Nuclear physics * Nuclear power * Particle decay * Poisson process * Radiation therapy * Radioactive contamination * Radioactivity in biology * Radiometric dating * Transient equilibrium


Notes


References


Inline


General


"Radioactivity"
Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. December 18, 2006 * Radio-activity by Ernest Rutherford Phd, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition


External links


The Lund/LBNL Nuclear Data Search
– Contains tabulated information on radioactive decay types and energies.
Nomenclature of nuclear chemistry



The Live Chart of Nuclides – IAEA

Interactive Chart of Nuclides

Health Physics Society Public Education Website
*
Annotated bibliography for radioactivity from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues


by Wolfgang Bauer

by David M. Harrison * "Henri Becquerel: The Discovery of Radioactivity", Becquerel's 1896 articles online and analyzed on
BibNum
' [click 'à télécharger' for English version]. * "Radioactive change", Rutherford & Soddy article (1903), online and analyzed on
Bibnum
' [click 'à télécharger' for English version]. {{DEFAULTSORT:Radioactive Decay Radioactivity, Exponentials Poisson point processes