The interactions of the various radiations with matter are unique and determine their penetrability through matter and, consequently, the type and amount of shielding needed for radiation protection. Being electrically neutral, the interaction of gamma rays with matter is a statistical process and depends on the nature of the absorber as well as the energy of the gamma. There is always a finite probability for a gamma to penetrate a given thickness of absorbing material and so, unlike the charged particulate radiations which have a maximum range in the absorber where all are stopped regardless of source strength, some gammas will always get through and, given a strong enough source, a lot may get through. This demo is usually presented in conjunction with the Sources and Detection demo; details about the radionuclides and detectors used here can also be found in that writeup.
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α, β, γ Penetration and Shielding
Penetrating Power of Radiation [MOE]
With all the radiation from natural and man-made sources, we should quite reasonably be concerned about how all the radiation might affect our health. The damage to living systems is done by radioactive emissions when the particles or rays strike tissue, cells, or molecules and alter them. These interactions can alter molecular structure and function; cells no longer carry out their proper function and molecules, such as DNA, no longer carry the appropriate information. Large amounts of radiation are very dangerous, even deadly. In most cases, radiation will damage a single or very small number of cells by breaking the cell wall or otherwise preventing a cell from reproducing. The ability of radiation to damage molecules is analyzed in terms of what is called ionizing power.
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Radioactive decay occurs when an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting energy in the form of emitted particles or electromagnetic waves, called radiation. Isotopes are atoms of the same element thereby having the same number of protons which differ in the number of neutrons in their nucleus. Some isotopes of a given element are more unstable than others, causing a nuclear reaction which releases energy to achieve a more stable nuclear configuration. There are many types of emmitted particles and radiation that radioisotopes produce when they decay. The types we will discuss here are: alpha, beta, and gamma listed in increasing ability to penetrate matter.
Three types of ionising radiation are:. It has a large mass, compared to other ionising radiations, and a strong positive charge. It has a very small mass and a negative charge. Gamma rays are caused by changes within the nucleus.