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Chemistry LibreTexts

12: Radioactivity and Nuclear Chemistry

  • Page ID
    212537
  • In today’s society, the term radioactivity conjures up a variety of images. Nuclear power plants producing hydrocarbon-free energy, but with potentially deadly by-products that are difficult to store safely. Bombs that use nuclear reactions to produce devastating explosions with horrible side effects on the earth as we know it and on the surviving populations that would inhabit it. Medical technology that utilizes nuclear chemistry to peer inside living things to detect disease and the power to irradiate tissues to potentially cure these diseases. Fusion reactors that hold the promise of limitless energy with few toxic side products. Radioactivity has a colorful history and clearly presents a variety of social and scientific dilemmas. In this chapter we will introduce the basic concepts of radioactivity, nuclear equations and the processes involved in nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.

    • 12.1: The Discovery of Radioactivity
      Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie, and Pierre Curie shared the discovery of radioactivity.
    • 12.2: Types of Radioactivity- Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Decay
      The major types of radioactivity include alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Fission is a type of radioactivity in which large nuclei spontaneously break apart into smaller nuclei.
    • 12.3: Natural Radioactivity and Half-Life
      During natural radioactive decay, not all atoms of an element are instantaneously changed to atoms of another element. The decay process takes time and there is value in being able to express the rate at which a process occurs. A useful concept is half-life, which is the time required for half of the starting material to change or decay. Half-lives can be calculated from measurements on the change in mass of a nuclide and the time it takes to occur.
    • 12.4: Radiocarbon Dating- Using Radioactivity to Measure the Age of Fossils and Other Artifacts
      Radiocarbon dating (usually referred to simply as carbon-14 dating) is a radiometric dating method. It uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years old. Carbon has two stable, nonradioactive isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13. There are also trace amounts of the unstable radioisotope carbon-14 on Earth.
    • 12.5: Radioactivity in Medicine
      The field of nuclear medicine has expanded greatly in the last twenty years. A great deal of the expansion has come in the area of imaging. This section will focus on nuclear medicine involving the types of nuclear radiation introduced in this chapter.

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