# Radioactive Decay, Definition, Types, Uses and Examples

Radioactive decay is a natural and spontaneous process by which the nucleus of an unstable atom undergoes a transformation, emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. This process occurs because certain atomic nuclei are inherently unstable due to an imbalance between the forces holding the nucleus together and the forces trying to break it apart.

Radioactive decay is a natural and spontaneous process by which the nucleus of an unstable atom undergoes a transformation, emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. This process occurs because certain atomic nuclei are inherently unstable due to an imbalance between the forces holding the nucleus together and the forces trying to break it apart.

Radioactive decay refers to the disintegration of an unstable atomic nucleus, resulting in the emission of radiation in the form of alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, or other particles/waves. This process aims to achieve a more stable and balanced nuclear configuration.

There are three types of decay, such as;

1. Alpha
2. Beta
3. Gamma

### 1.Alpha Decay(α-Decay)

Alpha decay of a radioactive nucleus can be represented by a decay equation that shows the parent nucleus decaying into a daughter nucleus by emitting an alpha particle. The general form of the alpha decay equation is as follows:

E=(mi-mf-mp)c2

Where,

mi=initial mass of the nucleus,

mj=mass of the nucleus after particle emission,

mp=mass of the emitted particle.

To write a specific alpha decay equation for a particular radioactive isotope, you would need to know the identity of the parent nucleus (the radioactive isotope) and its daughter nucleus (the resulting isotope) and balance the equation to ensure the conservation of atomic number and mass number. Let us take an example:

Let’s consider the alpha decay of uranium-238

92U23890Th234+2He4

In this example, uranium-238 undergoes alpha decay and transforms into thorium-234 while emitting an alpha particle. The atomic number (proton count) on the left side of the equation (92 for uranium-238) is equal to the sum of the atomic numbers on the right side (90 for thorium-234) and the alpha particle (2 protons), and the mass numbers (total number of protons and neutrons) are also conserved.

### 2. Beta Decay (β Decay):

Beta decay involves the emission of beta particles, which can be either beta-minus (β-) or beta-plus (β+).

In beta-minus decay, a neutron in the nucleus is transformed into a proton, emitting an electron (beta-minus particle) in the process.

In beta-plus decay, a proton is transformed into a neutron, emitting a positron (beta-plus particle) in the process.

Example of beta-minus decay:

90Th23491Pa234=-1e0

In this decay process:

A neutron in the thorium-234 nucleus is transformed into a proton. An electron (beta-minus particle) is emitted from the nucleus as a result. This process changes the atomic number from 90 (thorium) to 91 (protactinium) while keeping the total number of nucleons (protons + neutrons) constant at 234.

This represents a specific instance of beta-minus decay in which a neutron within the thorium-234 nucleus is converted into a proton, resulting in the transformation of thorium-234 into protactinium-234, with the emission of a beta-minus particle (electron) as a product of the decay process.

### 3. Gamma Decay (γ Decay):

Gamma decay is the emission of high-energy gamma rays (γ), which are electromagnetic radiation similar to X-rays but more energetic. Gamma rays are often emitted following other forms of radioactive decay to stabilize the nucleus further.

Example: After beta decay, an excited nucleus may release excess energy as gamma rays to reach a more stable state.

These various types of radioactive decay are fundamental processes that govern the behavior of radioactive isotopes, leading to the eventual transformation of unstable nuclei into more stable configurations.

## Practical Applications/Uses of Radioactive Decay:

Radioactive decay has various practical applications, including:

1. Radiometric Dating: By measuring the ratio of parent and daughter isotopes in a sample, scientists can determine the age of rocks, fossils, and archaeological artifacts. Carbon-14 dating, potassium-argon dating, and uranium-lead dating are examples of radiometric dating methods.

2. Nuclear Power: Controlled nuclear fission, which involves the controlled decay of certain isotopes like uranium-235 and plutonium-239, is used to generate electricity in nuclear power plants.

3. Medical Imaging and Therapy: Radioactive isotopes are used in nuclear medicine for diagnostic imaging (e.g., PET scans) and cancer treatment (e.g., radiation therapy).

4. Smoke Detectors: Some smoke detectors use a small amount of radioactive material to detect smoke and trigger an alarm.

5. Tracing and Labeling: Radioactive tracers are used in scientific research to track the movement of substances in biological and chemical processes.

6. Industrial Testing:  Radiography, which uses gamma rays or X-rays produced by radioactive sources, is employed for non-destructive testing of materials and welds. It’s important to note that while radioactive decay has many beneficial applications, it also poses health and environmental risks when not properly controlled or contained. Radioactive materials must be handled and stored with care to minimize exposure and potential harm

## Conclusion:

Radioactive decay is a fundamental natural process that plays a crucial role in understanding the behavior of atomic nuclei. It is governed by the principles of quantum mechanics and is a random, unpredictable phenomenon. It plays vital roles in various fields, from nuclear physics to medicine, as it allows us to harness the energy and applications of radioactive isotopes while also posing risks that must be managed carefully. Understanding the rates and types of radioactive decay is essential for radiometric dating, nuclear power generation, and radiation therapy in healthcare. Overall, the study of radioactive decay continues to shape our understanding of the universe and impact numerous aspects of our daily lives.