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Summary of Radioactivity: Properties and Uses

Properties of Particles

Name Symbols Identity Relative Charge Relative Mass Penetrating Power Interaction with Charged Plates Hazards
alpha α,

42He

helium
nucleus
2+ 4 low - stopped by a sheet of paper attracted to negative plate, deflected by positive plate harmful if ingested

beta β,

0-1e

electron 1- 1
2000
moderate - pass through paper and ½mm aluminium, stopped by ½mm lead attracted to positive plate, deflected by negative plate skin burns, harmful if ingested, particularly iodine-131 in thyroid & strontium-90 in bones

gamma γ electro-
magnetic
radiation
0 0 high - only stopped by several centimetres of lead or many centimetres of concrete unaffected most dangerous as these are the most penetrating, as a consequence, gamma rays can be used to sterilize materials & destroy bacteria in food

Uses of Radioisotopes

Isotope Radiation Emitted Half-life Use
Carbon-14 beta 5730 years radiometric dating:determination of age of carbon-containing artifacts up to about 70,000 years
also used as a biological tracer, for example, in studies of photosynthesis
Naturally occurring radioisotope

Chlorine-36 beta 301,000 years measurement of sources of chloride and determining the age of water up to about 2 million years old
Naturally occurring radioisotope

Lead-210 beta 22.3 years date layers of soil and sand deposited up to about 80 years ago
Naturally occurring radioisotope

Tritium beta 12.32 years measure the age of 'young' groundwater up to about 30 years old
Naturally occurring radioisotope
Titriated water is used to study sewage and liquid wastes

Potassium-40 positron emission 1.26 billion years Potassium-Argon radiometric dating:100 000 to several billion years

Rubidium-87 beta 48 billion years Rubidium-Strontium radiometric dating:millions of years

Uranium/Lead U-238 alpha & gamma 4.5 x 109 years radiometric dating:millions to billions of years

Oxygen-18 stable   biological tracer, for example, in studies of photosynthesis

Sodium-24 beta, gamma 15 hours location of leaks in water pipes, studies of body electrolytes
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Magnesium-27 beta, gamma 9.5 minutes location of leaks in water pipes

Potassium-42 beta & alpha 22 hours determination of exchanged potassium in blood flow
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Chromium-51 alpha 27.7 days labelling of red blood cells & quantifying gastro-intestinal protein loss
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Iron-59 beta, gamma 46.3 days in blood studies, when incorporated into steel it is used to determine the amount of friction in machinery

Cobalt-60 beta, gamma 5.3 years cancer treatment as tumour cells tend to be more susceptible to radiation than other cells

Gallium-67 gamma 3.3 days tumour-seeking agent
Isotope prepared in a cyclotron

Krypton-81 gamma 13 seconds Isotope prepared in a cyclotron

Technetium-99 beta 6 hours Medical tracer used to locate brain tumours and problems with the lungs, thyroid, liver, spleen, kidney, gall bladder, skeleton, blood pool, bone marrow, salivary & lacrimal glands & heart blood pool & to detect infection
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Iodine-131 beta, gamma 8.1 days Medical tracer to study & treat the thyroid gland & used in the diagnosis of adrenal medullary & for imaging suspected neural crest and other endocrine tumours
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Iodine-123 gamma 13.2 hours used in imaging to monitor thyroid function & detect adrenal dysfunction
Isotope prepared in a cyclotron

Ytterbium-169 gamma 3 days Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Uranium-235 alpha, gamma 7.1 x 108 years enriched as a fuel for most nuclear reactors

Plutonium-239 alpha, gamma 24 400 years fuel for most "fast-breeder" nuclear reactors

Americium-241 alpha 432 years domestic smoke alarms & neutron gauging
Americium-241 is a decay product of plutonium-241 formed in nuclear reactors.

Copper-64 gamma 12.7 hours studying genetic disease affecting copper metabolism
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Iridium-192 beta 73.83 days supplied as a wire for use as an internal radiography device

Molybdenum-99 beta 66 hours used as the 'parent' in a generator to produce technetium-99m, the most widely used radioisotope in nuclear medicine
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Phosphorus-32 beta 14.28 days treatment of excess red blood cells
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Samarium-153 beta 1.93 days used in the treatment of pain associated with bony metastases of primary tumours
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Yttrium-90 beta 64.1 hours liver cancer therapy
Isotope prepared in a nuclear reactor

Thallium-201 gamma 3 days locating damaged heart muscle
Isotope prepared in a cyclotron

Caesium-137 beta 30.2 years radiotracing to identify sources of soil erosion & depositing, also used in thickness gauging

Gold-198 beta 2.69 days trace factory waste causing ocean pollution and to trace sand movement in river beds and on ocean floors

Gadolinium-153 gamma 240.4 days used in X-ray fluorescence and bone density guages for osteoporosis screening

Zinc-65 gamma 244.26 days used to predict the behaviour of heavy metals in effluents from mining waste water

Manganese-54 gamma 312.2 days used to predict the behaviour of heavy metals in effluents from mining waste water
 

Positron emitters such as carbon-11, nitrogen-13, oxygen-15 and fluorine-18 are produced in a cyclotron and are extremely short lived isotopes. They are used in positron emission tomography (PET) for studying brain physiology and pathology for epilepsy and dementia.


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