Monthly Archives: February 2011

Gamma Rays!!!

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Gamma Ray

Gamma Ray

Gamma Rays!!!

Above we find an electron (top) smashing into an anti-electron, called a positron(bottom), and releasing a high energy gamma ray! This ray might go on to form twin mesons, but not in this picture.

Gamma radiation occurs when a particle changes to a lower energy state and is forced to give up some of it’s surplus energy to do so. When this energy is released, it may be in the form of a photon. Very high energy photons are called Gamma Rays. Gamma rays have frequencies of greater than 10 exahertz and energies greater than 100 keV!!! These incredibly powerful photons tear through normal matter, such as pine cones, a platypus, or your DNA, changing the configuration of anything they touch.

Student – “So… light is made of photons and so are Gamma rays… so Gamma rays are light?”
Teacher – “No. Soda cans are aluminum and so is foil, but are they the same?”
Student – “No…”
Teacher – “A photon with lots of energy may be a gamma ray, but at a lower energy it may be light.”
Student – “Oh, I see! I can stop light with my hand. Can my hand stop gamma rays?”
Teacher – “No… It may take many feet of lead to stop gamma rays!!!”
Student – “Will gamma radiation give me super powers?”
Teacher – “It will give you cancer… not quite a super power…”
Teacher Monologue:
“The ability of a material to stop a ray or particle of radiation is based upon the average probability of deflection and incidence. As a particle moves past atoms, it looses energy as it is deflected and refracted about. As rays of energy pass atoms they collide and come to a crashing end. It is much like flying a hang glider through a forest. If you do it many times, you are stupid… but you might have a change of hitting the first tree or perhaps making it a good distance. Likewise, a gamma ray might be stopped by the very first atom of lead in a wall or make it ten miles! What we are looking for is how much lead is needed to stop, on average, a give percent of the radiation. We choose lead because it is very dense and bonds relatively close to other lead atoms. Uranium, ironically, makes a good shield. Air actually stops things too! Remember, all rays and particles in out atmosphere can bump into an atom of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, or other things.”
Student – “Duh… ok!”

Beta Radiation!!!

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Potassium-40 Beta Decay

Potassium-40 Beta Decay

Above is an image of Potassium-40 undergoing Beta+/- decay.

Beta Radiation!!!

Beta radiation is the ejection of energetic electrons and anti-electrons (called positrons) from an atom. These electrons and positrons are moving with incredible force. They smash into our bodies and may cause harm. Beta radiation is one of the largest sources of radiation humans are exposed to.

You Eat This Each Day!!!

This atom is Potassium-40, a radioactive version of the Potassium you and I eat each day in our bananas and vitamins. When you eat light salt or Potassium salt, you are eating Potassium Chloride, mostly, which contains small amounts of K-40, radioactive Potassium! Yum!

Beta radiation is stopped by thin metal easily, a sheet of aluminum being the most often cited method.

Student – “So… electrons flow down a wire to make electricity, which powers my computer, etc?”
Teacher – “Sure! They also kill you when you’re blasted by massive amounts of them… beta radiation.”
Student – “But… what’s the difference??? Will a 9Volt battery kill me???”
Teacher – “Electricity is electrons peaceably moving between one atom to the next as a field of energy.”
Teacher – “Beta radiation is electrons running free at high speed, like tiny bullets! You are quite safe.”
Student – “You wrote above that bananas have beta radiation… are they deadly?”
Teacher – “No… K-40, a natural beta emitter, produce much of the radiation in the human body, normally.”
Teacher – “This is safe and some scientists even think tiny bits of radiation jump start you’re bodies natural defenses…”
Student – “! WOW ! That is crazy talk!!!”

Alpha Radiation!!!

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Alpha Decay

Alpha Decay

Alpha Radiation!!!

Above is an image of a 106 Tellurium undergoing alpha decay to become 102 Sn, (Tin).

What is Alpha Radiation?

Alpha radiation is the emission of alpha particles from unstable atoms. An alpha particle is actually made up of two protons and two neutrons held tightly together just the the nucleus of any atom. They have no electrons surrounding them, which gives the the ability to smash into other atoms and disrupt them.

Student – “But, are you saying Apha particles are just two protons and two neutrons together?”
Teacher – “Yes!”
Student – “Helium is just two protons and two neutrons… are you saying alpha radiation is helium?”
Teacher – “No… Helium is just two protons and two neutrons, but it also has two electrons orbiting it.”
Teacher – “If you stripped those electrons and gave it a good push, it would be alpha radiation!”
Student – “WOW! My party balloon was close to alpha, sort of…”
Teacher – “Sure, why not. Close enough.”

Alpha particles slow down rapidly after leaving their parent atom due to a process called Bremsstrahlung, meaning, “to slow down radiation”. This is one reason alpha radiation only travels a few inches, normally, before stopping. A single piece of paper can stop an alpha particle.

A Word on Particle Entanglement

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A Word on Particle Entanglement

I recently bumped into a smart fellow at my local WaWa (Convenience Store) who asked me some interesting questions about particle entanglement. He was curious how two particles could exchange information at a massive distance. Here is how I explained it:

A particle is a bit of energy in a stable state, defined by our universe. The “information” about the particle refers to it’s quantum state, such as momentum, mass, spin, charge, etc.

When a particle is in one state, any changes made to it, e.g. addition of kinetic energy, affect this state to bring the particle instantly into a new state.

so… any changes to a quantum state affect the entire state… with me so far?

Take two particles, described as two different quantum states. Mathematically, we represent each of these as a wave form with the standard quantum properties, e.g. mass, spin, etc. Each one can be placed into the exact same quantum state in such a way that they are both described by one and only one quantum state… (look up Bell pairs and lasers to see how this is done).

now, we have a single quantum state (originally two distinct states now bound as one).

What did we say before? “so… any changes to a quantum state affect the entire state… with me so far?”

as a simpler example, consider a giant banana. If the banana was ten billion miles long, it would take light nearly 15 hours to move from one end of the mega banana to the other!!! Now, suppose that the banana were 100% solid, not made of atoms but one one giant solid thing. (just bare with me for the sake of the example… say that a deity made it) If a massive person pushed one end of the banana and a beam of light were sent towards the other at the same moment(same end), the opposite end would instantly move as well, though it would be doing so ten hours before the beam of light passed the end. There has been NO communication between ends… I just treated the mega banana like one single system, just as a tiny banana, or a quantum state.


Bought a new Geiger Counter!

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I just bought a new geiger counter! It was a good deal and brand new. It will arrive in the mail soon. With it, and one 9 volt battery, I can detect radiation for kicks. I plan to carry it everywhere and see what I can detect. It is like rock collecting or owning a metal detector, more or less.

CRM-100 Handheld Geiger Counter from International Medcom. This awesome, tiny, hand held geiger meuller counter detects alpha, beta, gamma, and x ray!

I am going to start detecting things and posting them as I find them under a new category, to be determined. First up on my list is my extensive mineral collection, followed by my smoke alarm, which should contain Am241 lol

Some light salt will set it off too, I bet.

You can get your own CRM-100 Handheld Geiger Counter at: Medcom CRM-100