What is radiation? Simply put, radiation is the emission from radioactive atoms through a process called radioactivity.
Some elements of nature like uranium and thorium and some manmade elements like beryllium are radioactive; they have heavier atoms than elements like carbon or hydrogen, and because of this, are unstable.
They attain stability only by releasing some of their excess energy in the form of radiation.
There are two kinds of radiation – ionizing and non-ionizing; the former is a nuclear radiation that converts the neutral atoms of all substances to positive or negative ions through interactions, and the latter refers to radiations like natural light, microwaves and radio waves.
Ionizing radiation is harmful to health and results in diseases like cancer because cells in living organisms are ionized.
Radiation is of two kinds – electromagnetic and particulate. The former includes radiation from gamma rays and X-rays, and the latter includes beta and alpha radiation.
It’s important to be aware of and knowledgeable about radiation because it is harmful to all organisms and causes changes to the environments we live in.
At low doses, radiation does not cause any permanent harm because our cells are capable of repairing the damage. However, when the dosage is higher than 100rem, the cells undergo permanent change or die.
Those that die are usually replaced, but those that change produce abnormal change when they divide and tend to become cancerous.
Extremely high doses cause vascular and tissue failure and lead to radiation sickness and even death.
Intestinal linings are damaged to the point where they cannot absorb nutrition from food. The immune system too undergoes damage and cannot prevent illness and disease.
The presence of radiation is detected and measured by the use of photo films (which change in the presence of radiation), scintillators (which emit light proportional in intensity to the radiation level) and GM counters (which measure the electric current produced when radiation passes through a gas).
The half-life of a radioactive substance is the time required for its strength to reduce to half the original through radiation emission.
The concept of half-life is significant because it is used in the management of radioactive waste. Most manmade radioactive substances have short half-lives.
Radiation is also beneficial in the fields of medicine, communication and science.
It is used to determine (radioactive substances are injected into the body and the radiation they emit is monitored), diagnose (X-rays and other forms of radiation are used to diagnose broken bones and other diseases), treat (radiation in measured and accurately targeted doses is used to kill cancerous growth and prevent its spread) and research disease.
Electromagnetic radiation is used in communication systems, and radioactive atoms are used to determine the age of materials through the process of radiocarbon dating.
This guest post is contributed by Rachel Davis, she writes on the topic of Radiology Degrees . She welcomes your
comments at her email id: racheldavis65[@]gmail[.]com.