While atoms are the basic building blocks of our universe, some atoms are unstable and will lose particles through the process of radiation.
But don’t worry, this process is perfectly natural! Radiation can be very helpful to humans — but it can also be harmful. Let’s go over why.
Atoms and Isotopes
Did you know that scientists have discovered 118 different types of atoms? Each atom has its own atomic number based on the number of protons it contains in the nucleus.
For example, an atom of carbon has atomic number 6 because it has 6 protons, while the atomic number of gold is 79 because it has 79 protons.Atoms contain two other types of particles called electrons and neutrons. Each atom has the same number of electrons as protons, but the number of neutrons in an atom can vary a lot. For example, some carbon atoms have 6 neutrons, some have 7, and some have 8 neutrons! Atoms that have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes.
Radiation and the Three Rays
Isotopes that have a stable combination of protons and neutrons in their nucleus are called stable, but some isotopes are unstable. The only way for an unstable atom to become stable is to lose particles! This process is called radiation, and an atom that loses particles is called radioactive.There are three types of particles that an atom can lose through the process of radiation, or radioactive decay. The atom can lose two neutrons and two protons bound together, which is called an alpha particle, or it can lose a beta particle, or a gamma particle, which is a type of energy called electromagnetic radiation.
Remember that radiation is a natural process and can be used to help humans but it can also be dangerous and needs to be treated with respect.
Radiation is a natural process by which unstable isotopes of atoms will lose particles to become more stable. The three kinds of radioactive decay are called alpha, beta and gamma particles.
Isotopes have different radioactive half-lives which can be as short as a minute or as long as thousands of years for an isotope to decay. Radiation can be both helpful and harmful so it is important understand the process and be able to identify sources of radioactivity.