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Flashcards in Week 3 - Radioactivity Deck (15)
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- Nuclides that are unstable will spontaneously rearrange their nuclei to attempt to become stable
o Radioactive decay

- Unstable nuclides may undergo multiple decays before reaching the stability

- Radioactive decay usually involves the ejection of a particle or ray
o Alpha decay
o Beta decay
o Gamma decay


Alpha Decay

2 protons and 2 neutrons are ejected from unstable nucleus (generally large nucleus)
o Products --> New nuclide (due to loss of proton) and helium nucleus


Beta Decay

- Nucleus that has excess neutron and is unstable
- Neutron decays to a proton
- Negative high energy election (Beta-Minus) emitted
- Mass less anti-neutrino also emitted
o Has kinetic energy

- Conservation of energy


Positron Decay (Beta Positive)

- A nucleus that is in excess of protons relative to the stable configuration
- Proton decays to a neutron
- Positive high energy positron Beta emitted
- Massless Neutrino also emitted
- Conservation of energy
- Important in Position Emission Tomography (PET)


Gamma Decay

- Many alpha and beta decays leave the nucleus in an excited stated
- Excited nucleus decays rapidly to the ground state
- Emission of one or more gamma rays
- Gamma rays are high energy electromagnetic waves (similar to x-rays)
- Typical energies of 0.1 to 10 MeV

- Every nuclide has a unique set of gamma energies
- Characteristic or signature
- Gamma Spectroscopy


Similarities and Differences Between X-Rays and Gamma Rays

- Both X-rays and gamma rays are photons of Electromagnetic Radiation
- Gamma rays usually have a higher energy but there is a considerable overlap of energies

- X-rays originated from electron transitions/interactions
o Bremsstrahlung x-rays

- Gamma rays originate from the nucleus



- A magnetic field will separate the different types of radioactive decay particles


Other Types of EM Wave Emission

- If electrons in an atom are disrupted from their normal configuration by an excitation or ionisation proves

- Electrons rearrange themselves to return the atom to its ground state
o Happens very quickly

- When the atom transitions from the excited state to the ground state
o Electron moves from a lower to a higher energy level

- Characteristic X-rays are emitted (unique for each atom)
o Excess energy released

- As the atomic number of an atom increase
o Electron binding energy increases
o Characteristic x-ray energies increase


Radioactive Decay

- Radioactive decay and emission is spontaneous

- A sample of Uranium contains billions of atoms (nuclei)
o 1 gram of Uranium-238 contains 6x10^23

- Different nuclides will have different rates of decay


Rate of Nuclear Decay

o The time take for half the nuclei in a sample to undergo decay
- Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.468 billion years ago

Can be measured
- Activity of a Sample – number of disintergrations per second (dis/sec)
- SI Unit = Becquerel (Bq) = 1 disintegration/second
- Historical Unit = Curie (CI)
o 1CI = 3.7 x 10^10 Bq


Nuclear Decay: Activity of a Sample Depends on

o Number of radioactive nuclei in the sample (N)

o Characteristics of the nuclide
 Lambda = the decay parameter
 Probability of a given nucleus decaying in a particular time interval

o Every nuclide has an unique lambda decay parameter

o Bigger Lambda = Greater probability of decay


Radioactive Decay and Half-Life

- Measure the activity of a radioactive sample at regular time intervals

- Exponential decay of the number of nuclei

- N = Number of nuclei at time
- N0 = Numer of nuclei at t=0
- Lambda = the decay parameter
- Consider t = ½


Statistics and Radioactive Decay Measurements

- Radioactive decay is a random process
- Any measurement based on observing the radiation emitted in nuclear decay is subject to some degree of statistical fluctuation
- Fluctuations are an unavoidable source of uncertainty
- Counting Statistics includes the framework of statistical analysis required to process the results of nuclear counting experiments
- Makes prediction about the expected precision of quantities derived from these measurements


Counting Statistics for Radioactivity Measurements

- Make a measurement for 1 minute
- Will be number of counts / minute
- Repeat 3 times
- Would get a different count rate each time
- Should always measure multiple times to make predictions
- Standard deviation is the uncertainty


Counting Statistics: Fast Decaying Source

o Insufficient time to take repeated measurements
o The first and only measurement N (best estimate of the mean)
o Best estimate of the standard deviation (Square Roots of the number of counts – N)