Radioactive decay

by gowtham 2010-02-19 13:04:57

Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable atomic nucleus spontaneously loses energy by emitting ionizing particles and radiation. This decay, or loss of energy, results in an atom of one type, called the parent nuclide transforming to an atom of a different type, named the daughter nuclide. For example: a carbon-14 atom (the "parent") emits radiation and transforms to a nitrogen-14 atom (the "daughter"). This is a stochastic process on the atomic level, in that it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay,[1] but given a large number of similar atoms the decay rate, on average, is predictable.

The SI unit of activity is the becquerel (Bq). One Bq is defined as one transformation (or decay) per second. Since any reasonably-sized sample of radioactive material contains many atoms, a Bq is a tiny measure of activity; amounts on the order of GBq (gigabecquerel, 1 x 109 decays per second) or TBq (terabecquerel, 1 x 1012 decays per second) are commonly used. Another unit of radioactivity is the curie, Ci, which was originally defined as the amount of radium emanation (radon-222) in equilibrium with of one gram of pure radium, isotope Ra-226. At present it is equal, by definition, to the activity of any radionuclide decaying with a disintegration rate of 3.7 × 1010 Bq. The use of Ci is presently discouraged by the SI.

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