• Written By Livia Ferrao
  • Last Modified 25-01-2023

What is Radioactivity: Definition, Types, Sources & Effects


What is Radioactivity? We have all heard about radiation, how it is said to be harmful and how mos of our electronic gadgets emit some kind of radiation. Radioactivity is that which causes radiations. In this article, we will learn more about radiation, its effects, and causes, etc.

What is Radioactivity?

Radioactivity is the emission of particles caused by the spontaneous disintegration of atomic nuclei. This radiation is emitted when an unstable or in other words a radioactive nucleus transforms to some other energy level. So how you can relate to this? Well, imagine a big ball made of magnets that are spinning real fast. In this case, there are chances of a few pieces of magnets shooting out and hitting the wall. So that’s somewhat how radiation looks like.

Types of Nuclear Radiation

In nature as per their decaying effect, there are three types of radiation particles.

Alpha Particles (α)

The name alpha was given to these particles because they were the first particles involved in radiation that was discovered. Mainly these particles are made up of 2 protons and 2 neutrons (eg. helium nucleus). A large number of atoms often decay by emitting an energetic alpha particle. These particles are relatively large and positively charged. Even a thin piece of paper can stop almost any alpha particle. However, these particles cause extreme damage.

Beta Particles (β)

Beta particles are born when a neutron decays to a proton, they are energetic electrons that are emitted from the nucleus. Some isotopes decay by converting a proton to a neutron, thus emitting a positron or an anti-electron. These particles can penetrate matter more than can alpha particles. It takes a small aluminum plate to stop most beta particles.

Gamma rays (γ)

Gamma rays are photons that are emitted from the nucleus. An atom in an excited state will de-excite by emitting a gamma-ray. Gamma rays are similar to light waves and x-rays. But they are usually of much higher frequency. This radiation has no charge and can penetrate most matters easily.

Sources of Radiation

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors make use of an isotope called Americium-241. This isotope emits alpha-particles at energies up to 5.4 MeV.

Nuclear Weapon Detonations

The hundreds of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests that occurred before they were banned by the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty left long-lived radioisotopes in the atmosphere. Some of these are still in the atmosphere and these waves are very harmful.

Effects of Radiation

Radiations emit energetic particles or waves. The energy carried by this radiation is often sufficient to cause damage to biological cells and is, therefore, a health risk. Thus, radiation is the primary cause of safety concerns related to nuclear energy.

Students must try and keep away from such products that have such harmful effects. A healthy student can study for his/her exams more easily than a student who is stressed. To test yourself for the entrance exams you can check out the plenty of tests available on Embibe. These tests will help you improve your score by 29% of your previous score.

FAQs On Radioactivity

Here are some of the frequently asked questions on radiation and its effects:

Q1: What is radiation?
A: Radiation is energy given off by matter in the form of rays or high-speed particles.

Q2: Where does radiation come from?
A: Radiation is naturally present in our environment, as it has been since before the birth of this planet.

Q3: How far does radiation travel?
A: Travel distance depends on the type of radiation, as does the ability to penetrate other materials. Alpha and beta particles do not travel far at all, and they are easily blocked. By contrast, gamma rays, x-rays, and neutrons travel a significant distance and are much more difficult to block.

Q4: How are radioactive materials used?
A: In medicine, radioactive materials are used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Similarly, in biological and biomedical research, they are used to test new drugs and to study cellular functions and bone formation in mammals.

Q5: What happens to radiation produced by a plant?
A: Nuclear power plants sometimes release radioactive gases and liquids into the environment under controlled, monitored conditions to ensure that they pose no danger to the public or the environment.

Q6: How can exposure to radiation be minimized?
A: Time, distance, and shielding measures minimize your exposure to radiation in much the same way as they would to protect you against overexposure to the sun.

Now that you have all the information on radioactivity and radiation, if you have any doubt, ask us in the comment section and we will help you.

Reduce Silly Mistakes; Take Mock Tests related to Radioactivity