Jan 2017

Comparison of Alpha Particles, Beta Particles And Gamma Rays

January 11, 2017


A critical part of our JC physics tuition will be into the effects and uses for Alpha and Beta particles as well as Gamma rays. Below we summarize these important radioactive principles in simpler terms for you.

What are Alpha Particles, Beta Particles, and Gamma Rays

Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are forms of ionizing radiation and comes from the nuclei of atoms, and is an intrinsic part of the environment around us. While most atoms remain stable, some will disintegrate and transforms them into new atoms- and these unstable atoms occur due to their excess internal energy which relates to the force behind radioactive decay. It’s this very process of decay that makes radiation such an important part of many engineering, medical fields today.

What is the difference between the particles?

All three ray types are critical to the decomposition process. It’s how the atom disintegrates that governs what type of energy is released. Here’s the critical difference between the three types under comparison.

  • Gamma rays

Gamma rays are the simplest release from radioactive decay. There is no movement of the material, just the emission of a wave of energy. They are very similar to X-rays, with one main difference that X-rays are artificially produced. Gamma rays are very penetrative and pass straight through the human body. Fortunately dense mass can shield the human body, so lead and concrete, and even water will keep users safe.

  • Alpha particles

Alpha particles, on the other hand, have two protons and two neutrons– in other words, they are doubly charged. They have slow speed and high mass, so they lose energy when they collide with matter. Even a single sheet of paper will guard against them. However, if they do penetrate they inflict severe damage, more so than any other radiation form.

  • Beta particles.

These fast moving, singly charged electrons are forcibly pushed from the nuclei of radioactive atoms. They are light and high speed and can penetrate surfaces up to 2 cm. Aluminum of a few mm thickness can stop them.

What about Neutron Radiation and X-ray?

X-ray radiation is very similar to gamma radiation, but they are not exactly the same. X-rays originate from the neutron cloud and have lower energy and a longer wavelength than gamma radiation, and are usually caused when an electron gains or loses energy.

Neutron radiation, on the other hand, occurs when there is a free neutron which can travel thousands of meters. Hydrogen rich materials are able to block them, so both concrete and water are effective. Radiation is a critical component of many modern industries, even providing clean energy to the grids of many nations, therefore it is critical you get a good grip on this core part of your physics tuition.

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