Radioactivity can be defined as a physical process where the elements with unstable nuclei disintegrate to form a smaller nuclei. During this process, three different types of rays are emitted; they are: alpha (α), beta (β) and gamma (γ) rays. Some commonly found elements that show radioactive properties are Uranium, Thorium, Radium, Polonium, etc.
How is Radioactivity Used?
When radioactive rays are used to treat diseases, the process is called radiotherapy. This is an effective treatment for various forms of cancer. During this process, a high dose of gamma rays are penetrated through the rapidly-growing immature cancerous cells to destroy them. This kills the malignant cells, but leaves the normal cells unharmed. A similar kind of treatment is carried out for the elimination of tumors. It is also used for the diagnosis of several diseases. Radioactive pills are used to check if the organs of the body are functioning normally. It helps in the detection of exact location of a tumor, or a blood clot in the body. Radioactive Iodine-123 is popularly used for the diagnosis of thyroid problems. Cobalt-67 is useful for diagnosing pernicious anemia. Radioactivity also helps to sterilize medical instruments.
Rocks contain traces of Carbon-14, which is slightly radioactive in nature. Over a period of time, the unstable nucleus of the radioisotope undergoes decay to form sable isotopes. The original unstable isotope is referred to as the parent isotope, and the stable isotope products are referred to as daughter isotopes. By comparing the ratio of the quantities of these two isotopes present in the collected sample of the rock, the exact date of the rock can be determined. The older the age of the rock, the lesser is the amount of Carbon-14 present in it.
A nuclear reactor is a device that helps to produce radiation in a controlled manner. The huge amount of energy generated during a nuclear fission reaction inside a such a reactor is further utilized for production of electrical energy. New useful fission products are also obtained in the process. Radioactivity is widely used for the research and analysis of various physical, chemical, and biological processes. It has a wide range of uses in various manufacturing industries all across the world. It is used to test the integrity of the manufactured products including pipeline welds, aircraft parts, boilers, etc.
The process also has various uses in agricultural research studies. Phosphorus-32 is added to Phosphate fertilizer to determine the exact quantity of Phosphorus being absorbed by the plants from the fertilizer. Cobalt-60 is used to improve the production of crops, both in terms of quality as well as quantity. Radioactivity is also used for the sterilization of food. For this, concentrated beams are passed through the food products so that the microorganisms that causes contamination of the food can be killed effectively. This is an absolute safe method and does not cause any radiation poisoning.
Radioactivity has to be used in a very controlled manner, as it has potential dangers associated with it. If the human body is exposed to excess amount of radiation, it can cause cancer, and genetic mutation.