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Essential Elements

36 37 radIoactIvIty nuclear fizzicks An atomic nucleus, held together by immensely strong forces, contains huge amounts of energy. Unstable nucleii rebalance by spitting out radioactive emissions as protons and neutrons join fusion or split off fission. An isotope s radioactivity halves over its halflife, the less stable it is the faster it decays. Uranium238 has a halflife of 4.5 billion years, yet with ten neutrons less, uranium228 lasts a mere fifth of a second All living things are slightly radioactive, constantly absorbing carbon14 and tritium generated by cosmic rays. At death, we stop gathering these isotopes, and archaeologists use the 5,730 year half life of carbon14 to date interesting goo. Beyond bismuth, all elements have radioisotopes that undergo alpha decay, the nucleus expelling an particle a helium nucleus, see page 17. Thin clothing should prevent particles from ionizing you. Excess neutrons in a nucleus cause beta decay, a neutron converts into a proton, releasing a speeding electron a particle protective apparel or 2 mm of aluminium halts these beasties. Often found alongside or decays, gamma rays carry off energy as electromagnetic radiation that can zip through up to 2 cm of lead with no bother.
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