Particle radiation

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Particle radiation is the radiation of energy by means of fast-moving subatomic particles. Particle radiation is referred to as a particle beam if the particles are all moving in the same direction, similar to a light beam.

Radiant energy energy carried by electromagnetic radiation or gravitational radiation

In physics, and in particular as measured by radiometry, radiant energy is the energy of electromagnetic and gravitational radiation. As energy, its SI unit is the joule (J). The quantity of radiant energy may be calculated by integrating radiant flux with respect to time. The symbol Qe is often used throughout literature to denote radiant energy. In branches of physics other than radiometry, electromagnetic energy is referred to using E or W. The term is used particularly when electromagnetic radiation is emitted by a source into the surrounding environment. This radiation may be visible or invisible to the human eye.

Subatomic particle Particle whose size or mass is less than that of the atom, or of which the atom is composed; small quantum particle

In the physical sciences, subatomic particles are particles much smaller than atoms. The two types of subatomic particles are: elementary particles, which according to current theories are not made of other particles; and composite particles. Particle physics and nuclear physics study these particles and how they interact. The idea of a particle underwent serious rethinking when experiments showed that light could behave like a stream of particles as well as exhibiting wave-like properties. This led to the new concept of wave–particle duality to reflect that quantum-scale "particles" behave like both particles and waves. Another new concept, the uncertainty principle, states that some of their properties taken together, such as their simultaneous position and momentum, cannot be measured exactly. In more recent times, wave–particle duality has been shown to apply not only to photons but to increasingly massive particles as well.

A particle beam is a stream of charged or neutral particles, in many cases moving at near the speed of light.


Due to the wave–particle duality, all moving particles also have wave character. Higher energy particles more easily exhibit particle characteristics, while lower energy particles more easily exhibit wave characteristics.

Wave–particle duality is the concept in quantum mechanics that every particle or quantum entity may be partly described in terms not only of particles, but also of waves. It expresses the inability of the classical concepts "particle" or "wave" to fully describe the behaviour of quantum-scale objects. As Albert Einstein wrote:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.

Types and production

Particles can be electrically charged or uncharged:

In physics, a charged particle is a particle with an electric charge. It may be an ion, such as a molecule or atom with a surplus or deficit of electrons relative to protons. It can also be an electron or a proton, or another elementary particle, which are all believed to have the same charge. Another charged particle may be an atomic nucleus devoid of electrons, such as an alpha particle.

Particle radiation can be emitted by an unstable atomic nucleus (via radioactive decay), or it can be the product from some other kind of nuclear reaction. Many types of particles may be emitted:

Atomic nucleus core of the atom; composed of bound nucleons (protons and neutrons)

The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the discovery of the neutron in 1932, models for a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons were quickly developed by Dmitri Ivanenko and Werner Heisenberg. An atom is composed of a positively-charged nucleus, with a cloud of negatively-charged electrons surrounding it, bound together by electrostatic force. Almost all of the mass of an atom is located in the nucleus, with a very small contribution from the electron cloud. Protons and neutrons are bound together to form a nucleus by the nuclear force.

Radioactive decay Process by which an unstable atom emits radiation

Radioactive decay is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting radiation, such as an alpha particle, beta particle with neutrino or only a neutrino in the case of electron capture, or a gamma ray or electron in the case of internal conversion. A material containing unstable nuclei is considered radioactive. Certain highly excited short-lived nuclear states can decay through neutron emission, or more rarely, proton emission.

Nuclear reaction Process in which two nuclei collide to produce one or more nuclides

In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce one or more nuclides that are different from the nuclide(s) that began the process. Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to another. If a nucleus interacts with another nucleus or particle and they then separate without changing the nature of any nuclide, the process is simply referred to as a type of nuclear scattering, rather than a nuclear reaction.

Proton nucleon (constituent of the nucleus of the atom) that has positive electric charge; symbol p

A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol
, with a positive electric charge of +1e elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approximately one atomic mass unit, are collectively referred to as "nucleons".

Hydrogen Chemical element with atomic number 1

Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. With a standard atomic weight of 1.008, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the Universe, constituting roughly 75% of all baryonic mass. Non-remnant stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in the plasma state. The most common isotope of hydrogen, termed protium, has one proton and no neutrons.

Alpha particle helium-4 nucleus; a particles consisting of two protons and two neutrons bound together

Alpha particles, also called alpha ray or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+
or 4
indicating a helium ion with a +2 charge. If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle becomes a normal helium atom 4

Mechanisms that produce particle radiation include:

Alpha decay emission of alpha particles by a decaying radioactive atom

Alpha decay or α-decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms or 'decays' into a different atomic nucleus, with a mass number that is reduced by four and an atomic number that is reduced by two. An alpha particle is identical to the nucleus of a helium-4 atom, which consists of two protons and two neutrons. It has a charge of +2 e and a mass of 4 u. For example, uranium-238 decays to form thorium-234. Alpha particles have a charge +2 e, but as a nuclear equation describes a nuclear reaction without considering the electrons – a convention that does not imply that the nuclei necessarily occur in neutral atoms – the charge is not usually shown.

Auger effect

The Auger effect is a physical phenomenon in which the filling of an inner-shell vacancy of an atom is accompanied by the emission of an electron from the same atom. When a core electron is removed, leaving a vacancy, an electron from a higher energy level may fall into the vacancy, resulting in a release of energy. Although most often this energy is released in the form of an emitted photon, the energy can also be transferred to another electron, which is ejected from the atom; this second ejected electron is called an Auger electron. The effect was first discovered by Lise Meitner in 1922; Pierre Victor Auger independently discovered the effect shortly after and is credited with the discovery in most of the scientific community.

Beta decay decay where electrons (β-, beta minus) or positrons (β+, positron emission) are emitted

In nuclear physics, beta decay (β-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atomic nucleus, transforming the original nuclide to its isobar. For example, beta decay of a neutron transforms it into a proton by the emission of an electron accompanied by an antineutrino; or, conversely a proton is converted into a neutron by the emission of a positron with a neutrino in so-called positron emission. Neither the beta particle nor its associated (anti-)neutrino exist within the nucleus prior to beta decay, but are created in the decay process. By this process, unstable atoms obtain a more stable ratio of protons to neutrons. The probability of a nuclide decaying due to beta and other forms of decay is determined by its nuclear binding energy. The binding energies of all existing nuclides form what is called the nuclear band or valley of stability. For either electron or positron emission to be energetically possible, the energy release or Q value must be positive.

Charged particles (electrons, mesons, protons, alpha particles, heavier HZE ions, etc.) can be produced by particle accelerators. Ion irradiation is widely used in the semiconductor industry to introduce dopants into materials, a method known as ion implantation.

Particle accelerators can also produce neutrino beams. Neutron beams are mostly produced by nuclear reactors. For the production of electromagnetic radiation, there are many methods, depending upon the wave length (see electromagnetic spectrum).

Passage through matter

Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation Radioactivity and radiation.png
Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation

In radiation protection, radiation is often separated into two categories, ionizing and non-ionizing , to denote the level of danger posed to humans. Ionization is the process of removing electrons from atoms, leaving two electrically charged particles (an electron and a positively charged ion) behind. The negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions created by ionizing radiation may cause damage in living tissue. Basically, a particle is ionizing if its energy is higher than the ionization energy of a typical substance, i.e., a few eV, and interacts with electrons significantly.

According to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, electromagnetic radiations from ultraviolet to infrared, to radiofrequency (including microwave) radiation, static and time-varying electric and magnetic fields, and ultrasound belong to the non-ionizing radiations.

The charged particles mentioned above all belong to the ionizing radiations. When passing through matter, they ionize and thus lose energy in many small steps. The distance to the point where the charged particle has lost all its energy is called the range of the particle. The range depends upon the type of particle, its initial energy, and the material it traverses. Similarly, the energy loss per unit path length, the 'stopping power', depends on the type and energy of the charged particle and upon the material. The stopping power and hence, the density of ionization, usually increases toward the end of range and reaches a maximum, the Bragg Peak, shortly before the energy drops to zero.

See also

Related Research Articles

Muon elementary subatomic particle with negative electric charge

The muon is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with an electric charge of −1 e and a spin of 1/2, but with a much greater mass. It is classified as a lepton. As is the case with other leptons, the muon is not believed to have any sub-structure—that is, it is not thought to be composed of any simpler particles.

Neutron nucleon (constituent of the nucleus of the atom) that has neutral electric charge (no charge); symbol n

The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol
, with no net electric charge and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave similarly within the nucleus, and each has a mass of approximately one atomic mass unit, they are both referred to as nucleons. Their properties and interactions are described by nuclear physics.

Nuclear physics field of physics that deals with the structure and behavior of atomic nuclei

Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied. Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a whole, including its electrons.

Neutrino Elementary particle with extremely low mass that interacts only via the weak force and gravity

A neutrino is a fermion that interacts only via the weak subatomic force and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass is so small (-ino) that it was long thought to be zero. The mass of the neutrino is much smaller than that of the other known elementary particles. The weak force has a very short range, the gravitational interaction is extremely weak, and neutrinos, as leptons, do not participate in the strong interaction. Thus, neutrinos typically pass through normal matter unimpeded and undetected.

Nuclear fission nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts

In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller, lighter nuclei. The fission process often produces free neutrons and gamma photons, and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of radioactive decay.

Particle physics Branch of physics

Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the nature of the particles that constitute matter and radiation. Although the word particle can refer to various types of very small objects, particle physics usually investigates the irreducibly smallest detectable particles and the fundamental interactions necessary to explain their behaviour. By our current understanding, these elementary particles are excitations of the quantum fields that also govern their interactions. The currently dominant theory explaining these fundamental particles and fields, along with their dynamics, is called the Standard Model. Thus, modern particle physics generally investigates the Standard Model and its various possible extensions, e.g. to the newest "known" particle, the Higgs boson, or even to the oldest known force field, gravity.

Radiation Waves or particles propagating through space or through a medium, carrying energy

In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:

Pion Lightest meson

In particle physics, a pion is any of three subatomic particles:
, and
. Each pion consists of a quark and an antiquark and is therefore a meson. Pions are the lightest mesons and, more generally, the lightest hadrons. They are unstable, with the charged pions
decaying with a mean lifetime of 26.033 nanoseconds, and the neutral pion
decaying with a much shorter lifetime of 84 attoseconds. Charged pions most often decay into muons and muon neutrinos, while neutral pions generally decay into gamma rays.

Beta particle ionizing radiation

A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation, is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β decay and β+ decay, which produce electrons and positrons respectively.

A timeline of atomic and subatomic physics.

Ionizing radiation Radiation that carries enough light energy to liberate electrons from atoms or molecules

Ionizing radiation is radiation that carries sufficient energy to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thereby ionizing them. Ionizing radiation is made up of energetic subatomic particles, ions or atoms moving at high speeds, and electromagnetic waves on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Elastic scattering is a form of particle scattering in scattering theory, nuclear physics and particle physics. In this process, the kinetic energy of a particle is conserved in the center-of-mass frame, but its direction of propagation is modified. Furthermore, while the particle's kinetic energy in the center-of-mass frame is constant, its energy in the lab frame is not. Generally, elastic scattering describes a process where the total kinetic energy of the system is conserved. During elastic scattering of high-energy subatomic particles, linear energy transfer (LET) takes place until the incident particle's energy and speed has been reduced to the same as its surroundings, at which point the particle is "stopped."

Linear energy transfer action of radiation upon matter

In dosimetry, linear energy transfer (LET) is the amount of energy that an ionizing particle transfers to the material traversed per unit distance. It describes the action of radiation into matter.

Gamma ray Energetic electromagnetic radiation arising from radioactive decay of atomic nuclei

A gamma ray, or gamma radiation, is a penetrating electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves and so imparts the highest photon energy. Paul Villard, a French chemist and physicist, discovered gamma radiation in 1900 while studying radiation emitted by radium. In 1903, Ernest Rutherford named this radiation gamma rays based on their relatively strong penetration of matter; he had previously discovered two less penetrating types of decay radiation, which he named alpha rays and beta rays in ascending order of penetrating power.