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Types Of Radiation

What is Radiation?

The energy travelling through space is termed as radiation. Sunshine is one of the common forms of radiation that delivers heat, sunshine, and light. While we enjoy and depending on it, we also control our exposure to it. This is because prolonged exposure to certain radiations can lead to health problems that can eventually lead to death. Beyond ultraviolet radiation, higher-energy radiation exists and they are used in medicine. We get these radiations in low doses from space, from the air, and from the earth and rocks. In this article, let us discuss the different types of radiation.

Table of Contents

Ionizing Radiation DefinitionIonizing Radiation Types Ionizing Radiation Properties Non Ionizing Radiation

Types Of Radiation?

As we know, radiation is energy which is emitted by a source, then travels through a medium, such as air, until it is absorbed by matter. Based on the energy of the radiated particles, they are classified as follows:

  1. Ionizing radiation
  2. Non-ionizing radiation

What is Ionizing Radiation?

Ionizing radiation is radiation with sufficient energy that produces ions in the matter at the molecular level upon the interaction. In other words,  it can remove tightly bound electrons from the orbit of an atom, causing the atom to become charged or ionized. If the interacting matter is a human body, it can result in significant damage including damage to DNA and denaturation of proteins. This is not to say that non-ionizing radiation can’t cause injury to humans but the injury is generally limited to thermal damage i.e. burns. One of the most interesting things is that the visible spectrum is essentially the divide between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. This makes sense clinically when we think of UV radiation causing skin cancer.

Types of Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation is caused due to unstable atoms that either has excess energy or mass or both. In order for them to get back to a stable state, they have to release the extra mass or energy in the form of radiation. Given below are the different types of ionizing radiation along with a few of their characteristics:

  1. Alpha particles
  2. Beta particles
  3. Gamma rays
  4. X-rays

What are Alpha Particles?

The particles consisting of two protons and two neutrons that are bound together are known as alpha particles. These particles are identical to the helium atom and are emitted during radioactive decay and are known as alpha decay.

Uses of alpha particles
  • They are used as smoke detectors. When the smoke enters the detectors, the number of alpha particles reduce and get detected by the alarm. Americium-241 is an example of a smoke detector.
  • They are used as static eliminators to remove the static charges from the equipment. Polonium-210 is an example of static eliminator.

What are Beta particles?

Particles that are having high energy electrons or positrons are known as beta particles. These are ejected during the radioactive decay and are known as beta decay.

Uses of beta particles
  • Strontium-90 is used for the treatment of bone cancer.
  • For emergency lighting, tritium is used.

What are Gamma Rays?

During radioactive decay, a packet of electromagnetic energy is emitted by the nucleus known as a gamma-ray. In the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma photons are the most energetic photons.

Uses of gamma rays
  • Cobalt-60 is used for sterilization of medical equipment and pasteurisation of food.
  • Caesium-137 is used for the measurement of soil moisture density and to measure and control the flow of liquids in industries.

What are X-Rays?

X-ray is a packet of a photon that is produced by electrons that are external to the nucleus. They originate from the electron cloud of an atom.

Properties of X-rays

Physical They are invisible to eyes but have the property of attenuation, absorption and scattering
Chemical They produce highly active radical of OH ions that can bring chemical changes in the solution
Biological They are used for cancer treatment and may cause genetic changes
Physiochemical They are used for producing photographic films
Uses of X-rays
  • X-rays are used for crystallography and fluoroscopy to control the quality of materials.
  • X-rays are used to detect tumours and infections.

The table is given below lists the properties of Ionizing radiation.

Properties of Ionizing Radiation

Properties of Ionising Radiation
Type of Ionising Radiation
Alpha particles
Beta particles
Gamma rays
Positively charged particles
Negatively charged particles
Uncharged electromagnetic radiation
Natural Source
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Excited nuclei formed due to alpha and beta decay

Non – Ionizing Radiation

Non-ionizing radiation is the term given to radiation that has insufficient energy to cause ionization. These kinds of radiations contradict with ionizing radiation like x-rays, gamma rays, and alpha particles, which are on the other end of the spectrum and are unstable and reactive. Non-ionizing radiation can produce heat, which is how food is cooked in a microwave oven. Humans and other organisms can see some types of non-ionizing radiation, such as visible light and infrared light. Following are the types of non-ionizing radiation:

  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • Visible light
  • Infrared
  • Microwave
  • Radio waves
  • Very Low Frequency (VLF)
  • Extremely Low Frequency (ELF)
  • Thermal radiation
  • Black-body radiation

What is ultraviolet radiation?

Sunlight is the main source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Prolonged exposure of skin to this radiation leads to skin cancers. Sun lamps and tanning beds also emit UV rays. It has a wavelength of 400 nm.

Types of UV radiation

Following are the types of UV radiation:

  • UVA
  • UVB
  • UVC

What is visible light?

Visible light is defined as the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. When the full spectrum passes through the prism, the spectrum separates depending on their wavelength into the colours of the rainbow. The shortest wavelength (380 nm) is of violet and the longest wavelength (700 nm) is of red.

What is Infrared radiation?

Infrared radiation (IR) is also known as infrared with the wavelength range 700 nm to 1 mm. These are longer than the visible light. Near wavelength, mid-wavelength, long-wavelength and far-infrared are the different categories of infrared.

Uses of infrared waves

Following are the uses of infrared waves:

  • Thermography is a method to determine the relative temperature of the object and for this infrared waves are used.
  • Infrared waves are invisible but can be sensed as they conduct heat. Because of this property, infrared waves are used in physical therapy for heating purposes.

What are microwaves?

Microwaves are waves with different wavelengths and frequencies. They have a wavelength of 30 cm to 1 mm and frequency between 300 MHz and 300 GHz.

What are radio waves?

Radio waves are the electromagnetic radiation that has a wavelength longer than infrared and travel at a speed of light. The propagation characteristics of the radio waves have different frequencies like long waves to cover the earth and short waves that get reflected off in the ionosphere.

Uses of radio waves

Following are the uses of radio waves:

  • Radio waves are used for mobile radio communication.
  • Radar and satellite communication.
  • For navigation systems.

Following are the links for other types of non-ionizing radiation:

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