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GCSE: Radioactivity

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Model of an atom

  1. 1 An atom consists of a positive nucleus and negative electrons. In a neutral atom, there are the same number of protons (positive charge) as electrons.
  2. 2 The nucleus may also contain neutrons. For example, the element Carbon-12 has 6 protons and 6 neutrons in the nucleus. To balance the positive charge, it has 6 electrons.
  3. 3 Some elements have isotopes. These are atoms with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons. An isotope of Carbon is C-14. This is an atom with 6 protons and 8 neutrons. It still has 6 electrons.
  4. 4 If an atom has one or more electrons removed, it is called an ion. It has positive charge. Helium-4 has two protons and 2 neutrons in the nucleus. Plus two electrons. If the two electrons are removed, we end up with an ion of Helium. It is just the nucleus of Helium and it is also called an alpha particle.
  5. 5 Some atoms are unstable. These atoms may have extra neutrons. To become more stable, these atoms release energy from the nucleus and this is called radiation.

What is radiation?

  1. 1 Energy from the nucleus is released in one of three ways : alpha, beta or gamma radiation.
  2. 2 Alpha radiation is the emission of an alpha particle (a helium nucleus) from the nucleus of an atom. In the process, the nucleus loses 2 protons and so the smaller nucleus is now a different element. Alpha particles carry positive charge.
  3. 3 Beta radiation is when the nucleus emits a fast moving electron (beta particle). It is not one of the electrons from the atom. Beta particles carry negative charge.
  4. 4 Gamma radiation. Unlike alpha and beta radiation, gamma is an electromagnetic wave. It travels at the speed of light and is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma radiation carries no charge.
  5. 5 When a substance emits radiation, it is said to be radioactive. It is impossible to tell when a nucleus will emit radiation because it is a totally random process.

Testing for radiation

  1. 1 Test for the presence of radiation using a Geiger Muller (GM) tube. This doesn’t reveal which type of radiation is being detected. Measure the background count and then do these tests.
  2. 2 Let’s assume that the GM tube is detecting a count rate that is higher than the background from a radioactive sample. Alpha is stopped by 5cm of air or paper. So placing paper between the GM tube and sample will reduce the count rate if alpha is present. If there is no change, then beta or gamma is present. Test for beta using aluminium sheet. If no change then gamma is present.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 7
  • Peer Reviewed essays 15
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    'Is Nuclear Power the Solution to our Energy Problems?' Case Study

    4 star(s)

    Nuclear power commonly uses an isotope of uranium, U-235. This is the only isotope of any element that can sustain chain reactions which occurs naturally. Uranium is quite common, it occurs in most rocks in concentrations of 2 to 4 parts per million and is as common in the Earth's crust as tin. Uranium-235 can be split by firing a free neutron into the nucleus, causing the nucleus to become so unstable that it splits, forming 2 different elements, barium and krypton, and 3 free neutrons. These free neutrons then go on to hit more Uranium-235 atoms, setting off a chain reaction, releasing massive amounts of energy.

    • Word count: 2032
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Is nuclear power the future? Should we build more nuclear power stations in Britain?

    4 star(s)

    What is Nuclear Power? Some atoms are radioactive: they have an unstable nucleus which decays over time. Some can be made so unstable that they split in two, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process: this is called nuclear fission. Nuclear power works by creating a chain reaction of nuclear fission. Nuclear power commonly uses an isotope of uranium, U-235. This is the only isotope of any element that can sustain chain reactions which occurs naturally.[1] Uranium is quite common: it is 40 times more abundant than silver.[2] At current consumption levels uranium resources are expected to last for over 100 years and there is expected to be twice that amount which has not yet been discovered.

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  3. Marked by a teacher

    What is Spectroscopy?

    4 star(s)

    Fundamentals of Spectroscopy Spectroscopy is the distribution of electromagnetic energy as a function of wavelength. Spectrum is basically white light dispersed by a prism to produce a rainbow of colours; the rainbow is the spectrum of sunlight refracted through raindrops. All objects with temperatures above absolute zero emit electromagnetic radiation by virtue of their warmth alone; this radiation is emitted at increasingly shorter wavelengths as temperature is increased. Individual atoms can emit and absorb radiation only at particular wavelengths equal to the changes between the energy levels in the atom. The spectrum of a given atom therefore consists of a series of emission or absorption lines.

    • Word count: 1008
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Physics Argument - Is Sunbathing Good For You?

    3 star(s)

    Again, you could avoid this by using suncream and not staying out for too long. Males are 2-3 times more likely than females to have basal cell and squamous cell cancers. All children should wear suncream because they have more sensitive and reactive skin than adults. Playing in the sand and swimming can remove many protection screens so it should be reapplied as often as possible, children are recomended to wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above.

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  5. Marked by a teacher

    Radioactivity revision notes

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    Beta (?) - this is an electron emitted from the nucleus when a neutron changes into a proton. It is smaller and less ionizing and can travel metres through the air before being stopped. It requires a more dense material such as aluminium to stop it. 3) Gamma - (?? - this is an electro-magnetic wave and an travel very large distances. It requires several metres of lead to stop it. Type Symbol Chemical symbol Range Charge Stopped by alpha ?

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  6. Marked by a teacher

    The Journey of a carbon atom.

    it was diffused and entered a palaside cell where it was then made into a glucose, starch this process is called photosynthesis. In this process, energy from the sun is being used to change it along with water drown up from the roots, into a simple sugar molecule (C6 H2 O6). Sugars are sometimes joined together to form large starch molecules. Both sugars and starches are known as carbohydrates. Oxygen gas is also formed and released into the atmosphere. One hundred and twenty five years ago, a dinosaur was walking through Wye Valley.

    • Word count: 604
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Factors Affecting Heat Loss.

    This process continues through out the solids, causing a rising temperature at the other side. Non-metals such as plastic, wood and rubber etc are very good insulators. All metals are good conductors due to their free electrons. Metals conduct so well because the electrons inside the metal are free to move. Te electrons on the end move faster and diffuse quickly through the metal. Electrons carry the energy quite a long way before giving it up in a collision. This is a quicker way of transferring energy through the metal letting it slowly pass, by atoms to other atoms.

    • Word count: 1290
  8. Peer reviewed

    Dangers of mobile interference. Some airlines allow the use of mobile phones on aircraft, however as of 2011 most airlines do not.

    4 star(s)

    There is anecdotal evidence showing various degrees of correlation between use of mobile phones in flight and various instrument problems, and one study concluded that mobile phones used in the cabin could exceed the rated allowable interference levels for some avionics installed in some aircraft. On the other hand, links between device use and actual system failures have not been proven rigorously, nor have the reported incidents been reproduced in ground tests.

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  9. Peer reviewed

    "Risky Rainbow"

    4 star(s)

    Most commonly, UV causes sunburn, and in more extreme cases, skin cancer. Eyes and the immune system can also be damaged by UV radiation. A positive effect of UV is that it brings about the production of vitamin D in the skin. It also has other medical uses, and is used in florescent lights. UVC rays are the highest energy, most dangerous type of ultraviolet light. Little attention has been given to UVC rays in the past since they are filtered out by the atmosphere.

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  10. Peer reviewed

    As part of my AS physics coursework I went on a trip to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The purpose of this trip was to find out the physics involved in Hospital equipment, which is used on patients

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    Ultra sound can be used on pregnant women using the procedure mentioned above. Below is an example of an ultra sound image of a fetus. Image of a fetus where the head is on the right hand side Other Medical Areas Where Ultra Sound Can Be Used Ultra sound can be used to monitor motion of interferences in the body like for e.g. the beating of the heart or the blood flow of the arteries. Ultrasonic are used for the treatment of kidney stones. When you cross two ultrasound beams at the stone a shock wave is propagated that shatters the stone into tiny pieces that are passed in the urine and so future surgeries to cure this problem can be avoided.

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  11. Peer reviewed

    Determine the penetrating power and the range in air of the three radioactive emissions (Plutonium 239 for alpha, Strontium 90 for beta and Cobalt 60 for gamma).

    4 star(s)

    Safety precautions included removing the sources from a secure wooden box using thongs and tweezers and placed in plasticene, the set square was held using thongs and all those carrying out the experiment stood behind the source to minimise any direct radiation exposure. Method 2 The equipment was set up as shown below to measure the penetrating power of each radioactive source. Again the measurements were taken without the absorber to measure background radiation. The source was placed quite close to the counter (1cm)

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  12. Peer reviewed

    Rutherford's Alpha Particle Scattering Experiment:The discovery of the Nucleus...

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    They were assuming that the electrons contributed a good fraction of the atom's mass.) Rutherford's alpha scattering experiments were the first experiments in which individual particles were systematically scattered and detected. This is now the standard operating procedure of particle physics. Rutherford's partner in the initial phase of this work was Hans Geiger, who later developed the Geiger counter to detect and count fast particles. The experiment was conducted, as is shown below. Alpha particles were fired from a source (from within a lead "shield") at a sheet of thin gold foil (which had been beaten to about 400 atoms thick. A fluorescent screen was placed behind / around the gold foil.

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  13. Peer reviewed

    What is the best way to keep hot water hot for the longest period of time

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    Convection- The convection of heat occurs in liquids and heat only. It is a much more effective process then conduction so I am going to concentrate on stopping convection more then stopping conduction. Convection is when heat from a hot region takes the heat and moves to a cooler region. Here is a picture of what happens in the convection process... I will therefore need an item which can stop convection from happening in the experiment, as this will reduce the loss of heat dramatically. Radiation- Heat radiation can travel in a few ways; here are some of them, 1.

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  14. Peer reviewed

    What colour surface is best at absorbing infrared radiation?

    4 star(s)

    Light waves with different colour have different frequency (infrared is the slowest while ultraviolet is the fastest). Each body with a temperature more than the absolute zero emits electromagnetic radiation. The higher the temperature of a body is the more electromagnetic radiation, thus the more energy, it emits. The emitted electromagnetic radiation contains the whole spectrum, however, the higher the temperature of a body is the radiation with the maximum intensity has the higher frequency.

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  15. Peer reviewed

    How safe are Mobile phones?

    3 star(s)

    Sony Ericsson W950i 1.35 Sony Ericsson Z610i 1.32 Sony Ericsson K810i 1.31 Sony Ericsson W610i 1.31 Sony Ericsson W660i 1.27 Sony Ericsson K550i 1.25 LG & Nokia KU250 + N5700 1.24 This graph shows that the phone with the highest SAR value in Europe is the Sony Ericsson T650. The information collected has been collected from various independent sources. SarValues.Com cannot however guarantee its accuracy. Therefore, this is the least reliable and valid source. * Social Issues Mobile phones increase the risk of having accidents while using on mobile phones.

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  16. Peer reviewed

    Ionisation smoke alarms use an ionisation chamber and a source of ionising radiation to detect smoke.

    3 star(s)

    [5] The charged ions then migrate to their oppositely charged plate. So, the negative ion will be attracted to the positive plate and the positive ion would be attracted to the negative metal plate. The ions would then 'gravitate' in a regular stream; this creates a small electric current.[6] If a fire breaks out, the smoke particles enter the smoke alarm; they start to clog up the ionisation chamber. The particles interrupt the stream of ions or electric current by combining with the ionised oxygen and nitrogen.

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  17. Peer reviewed

    Basically, x-rays are like visible light rays. In practice, x-rays expose body patients' organs and structures, so doctors can diagnose the illness faster. However, x-rays

    3 star(s)

    Roentgen realised that the cathode rays travelled through many objects on his desk, examples, paper, books and wood. So, he put more objects in front of the generator and saw his hand's bones displayed on the fluorescent screen. Roentgen kept working for 2 months before published a report: "On a New Kind of Ray: A Preliminary Communication" on December, 1895. 3. Science Organisation X-rays are physics and a branch of radiation; x-ray is the study of cathode rays and waves.

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  18. Peer reviewed

    Physics Homework heat

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    Usually the poorest conductors of heat are liquids, such as water. 5. Fur, fibreglass and polyurethane foam are all good insulators because of the air trapped inside them. 6. A double glazed window consists of two sheets of glass with an insulating layer of thin air trapped between them. 7. Bike handles feel colder than their rubber/plastic grips because the grips are insulating the heat. Convection 1. In a beaker containing both hot and cold water, the hot water rises by convection to the top and the cold water sinks to the bottom.

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  19. Peer reviewed


    3 star(s)

    This results in the displacement of the halide ion. This experiment will compare the rate of hydrolysis of 1-chlorobutane, 1-bromobutane and 1-iodobutane where H2O acts as a nucleophile. METHOD: 1) Fill a two-thirds of a beaker with water and insert a thermometer into the beaker 2) Heat water in a beaker till it reaches about 50oC 3) Put 1 cm3 of 0.1mol dm-3 of silver nitrate solution into 3 test tubes labeled or marked A,B,C, respectively 4) Stand the test tubes in the beaker of water at 50oC 5)

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  20. Peer reviewed

    Do Mobile Telephone Masts Actually Harm The Public?

    3 star(s)

    Basic health concerns Concerns have been raised about the normal mobile phone, which has the antenna in the handset. In this case, the antenna is very close to the user's head during normal use of the telephone and there is concern about the level of microwave emissions to which the brain is being exposed. Microwaves can also be used to transmit information due to their ability to pass through many substances in the atmosphere (fog, dust, smoke). However, it is their use in microwave ovens with which we are most familiar.

    • Word count: 593
  21. Peer reviewed

    Plan - Investigating what kinds of materials are best at keeping water in a beaker warm

    This process is where vibrating particles pass their extra vibration energy to neighbouring particles. Convection of heat only occurs in liquids and gasses. Convection occurs when the more energetic particles move from the hotter region to the cooler region taking their energy with them. Radiation of heat can also be called infer-red radiation.

    • Word count: 316
  22. Peer reviewed

    Rabbit Proof Fence Essay - review

    They thought that they were doing a good thing. Some of the reasons for this are outlined below. The first reason is so the half-caste aboriginals could have an education. Their education taught them western life skills, this was so they could fit in more easily with modern society. This process was also known as civilizing them. They also learnt very basic reading and writing. Some children got sent away for a proper education. Whether they got to go or not depended on how pale their skin was. The Europeans thought that if they took the half-caste aboriginals into society and trained them as explained above, they stood more chance of being able to gain new and wonderful opportunities such as employment.

    • Word count: 825
  23. Should radioactive smoke alarms be a compulsory purchase?

    The negative ions (electrons) are drawn to the positively charged metal plate, and the positive ions (the positive atoms) to the negative plate. The small current generated by this flows between two electrodes. As long as the current flows in this way the alarm does not go off. But if a fire breaks out and smoke is present in the air, the smoke molecules attach themselves to the ions and neutralise the ions. This shuts off the electric current. The circuit in the detector spots that change straight away and sounds the alarm.2 This type of smoke alarm has a number of advantages and disadvantages.

    • Word count: 3350
  24. Heating and cooling revision notes for science

    They have a fixed shape and cannot flow The particles cannot move from place to place They cannot be compressed or squashed The particles are close together and have nowhere to move into Properties of Liquids Why are they like this? They flow and take the shape of their container The particles can move around each other They cannot be compressed or squashed The particles are close together and have nowhere to move into Properties of Gases Why are they like this?

    • Word count: 1149
  25. Heat in the kitchen

    When heat is transferred from hot places to cold places, this type of energy transferred is called convection. This is how heat transferred through the water. Next the heat gets transferred from water to metal spoon by conduction. Metal is a good conductor of heat so it gets hot easily. When the spoon gets heated, the spoon's particles gain more energy and vibrate more vigorously. The particles bump into nearby particles and make them vibrate more. This is how heat passes energy from the hot end of the spoon to the cool end of the spoon.

    • Word count: 493

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