Science Articles

WHAT IS RADIOACTIVE DECAY?

Radioactive decay can be defined as the spontaneous breakdown of the nucleus of an atom which results in nucleus releasing energy and matter. Radioisotope contains an unstable nucleus which lacks the binding energy needs for holding the nucleus together.

Radioactive decay can be defined as the spontaneous breakdown of the nucleus of an atom which results in nucleus releasing energy and matter. Radioisotope contains an unstable nucleus which lacks the binding energy needs for holding the nucleus together. Since radioisotopes are unstable, they want to become stable and hence they try to change and get stability. Through a process known as transmutation, they release the energy and matter from their nucleus in order to transform into another newer element.

Transmutation is also described as the change that converts one element into another through the changes made in the nucleus. Transmutation can be natural or artificial. The radioactive decay, along with transmutation, continues so far as the new element isn’t radioactive and contains a stable nucleus. Radioactive decay is also known as radioactivity or nuclear decay.

 

PROPERTIES OF RADIOACTIVE DECAY

Radioactive decay is a random process which takes place at the level of single atoms. Quantum theory states that it is not possible for the prediction of the particular atom, irrespective of the long presence of the atom. The expected decay rate of a collection or a group of atoms is measured in the terms of their half-lives or decay constants. Radiometric dating is based on this only.

There is no upper limit of the radioactive atoms. There is no well-defined orientation for a radioactive nucleus having a zero spin. This results in the emission of the total momentum of the decayed products in all the directions.  However, production of various particles within a single decay can cause their spin directions to be non-isotropic in nature. This makes the product to be distributed unevenly in the spin direction owing to the presence of an electromagnetic field or the production of the nucleus in a process which has resulted in constraining the spin direction.

Parent radionuclide is the decay of nucleus which results in the production of a daughter nuclide which consists of protons or/and neutrons. This statement holds true except in the cases of gamma decay or the internal conversion in nucleus’ excited state. With the change in a number of protons, another new element is formed.

Alpha and beta decay results in nuclear transmutation. But, gamma decay does not result in any nuclear transmutation. Spontaneous fission occurs when there is a splitting of an unstable nucleus into two or more daughter nuclei leading to the emission of neutrons, gamma rays and some other particles.