What are alpha beta gamma radiation and what do we need to know to protect ourselves from damage from them?
Everything in the universe is made up of atoms.
Atoms consist of electrons which orbit around the outside of the nucleus. The nucleus is made of protons with their positive charge and neutrons with their neutral charge. The discharged electrons are what we commonly refer to as alpha beta gamma radiation.
If the entire space taken up by an atom were the size of a football field, then the nucleus would be about the size of a fly in the center of the field. This means that the atom is mostly made up of empty space. This is an important concept to understand what the three types of radioactive decay can do to the human organism.
When the nucleus is unstable, a process happens where the nucleus spontaneously sheds ionizing particles (ionizing radiation). This shedding is called radio active decay. The decay results in the atom changing to become a more stable type of atom. This decay is called radioactive decay.
There are two types of radioactive decay processes.
Until recently, it was felt that this is a process that is totally spontaneous and cannot be sped up or slowed down. Although the decay cannot be predicted for just one atom, it is possible to predict the decay rate for a large number of atoms, thus we have what you hear of as half lives.
Experiments have been tried where radioactive materials are heated up, cooled down and even using magnets and the result is the same. The decay seems to be totally random.
In the process of radioactive decay, radioactive material will start off one type of matter and end up being an entirely different type of matter. For instance, in nuclear reactors in Russia, some of the materials were changed into gold. The extreme amounts of energy to accomplish this make it cost prohibitive.
The sun is an example of one type of matter, a gas, that when super heated turns into another form of matter, a different kind of gas.
We theorize that using a process to create nuclear excitement, it may be possible to speed up the decay process into minutes rather than hours. But, this is for another discussion.
In the decay process, there are several different types of radiation produced. The three most common types of decay emitted from the nucleus.
Alpha particles are the slowest, heaviest and have the lowest penetrating power. Paper can usually protect you from Alpha radiation.
Alpha particles are relatively slow and heavy. Alpha particles only comes from heavier elements (those with an atomic number of 52 or greater). They carry a positive charge.
They have a low penetrating power - you can stop them with just a sheet of paper.
Alpha particles ionise other atoms.
The other two, Beta and Gamma rays are found in all elements.
Beta rays have a negative charge.
Gamma rays are similar to X ray and are neutral in their charge.
What does alpha, beta, gamma radiation do to the human body?
Rather than looking at the effect on the body, lets look at the effect on the individual cell. Then considering that it can happen to numerous cells, the overall effect will be discussed.
Radiation is basically free radicals traveling willy nilly through out their universe. Remember how each atom is mostly space. What is that space? It is not air space as air is also made of atoms. So it is empty space.
How is it that radiation can travel through us so easily? The part of the atom that is being shed, since it comes from that space, can easily travel through the space of other atoms.
When those other atoms make up cells, the free radical radiation causes ionization of the exposed cells exposed. The free radicals try to steal the electrons from other atoms.
When those atoms are of our cells, one of several things can happen.
If the ionization can result in the removal of electrons from the atoms, forming ions or charged atoms. These ions start to react with other groups of atoms that make up certain structures of each and every cell.
Depending on the group of atoms and the part of the cell they affect determines what the damage they do to our body.
The damage is on a continuum of minimal to maximum damage. If they only puncture a hole in a cell, the cell dies and the body repairs the cell and on its own, the death of a cell is the least damage since the body can replace that damaged cell.
Since radiation is everywhere and part of the world we live in, it would only seem natural that our body has a natural defense against any damage from normal radiation.
It does. The protection comes from the endogenous antioxidant system. When the free radicals want to steal an electron.
If the atoms affect the DNA , the cells are changed permanently. If these cells do not self destruct, they go on to reproduce more damaged cells.
Or if enough cells are damaged beyond what the body can repair or enough of the cells that effect the repairs are killed, then our death will result.
So, receiving a maximum dose over the whole body, our blood vessels, nervous tissues and intestines will be damaged beyond repair.
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