Display Radioactivity with GAMMA EASY

Facts, backgrounds, trivia

What is radioactivity?

Scientists describe radioactivity as the ability of certain atoms to transform into other atoms without any intervention, while they emit high- energy (ionizing) radiation. This radiation can cause massive damage to the human body. If humans are exposed to it, there is the possible danger that the radiation destroys the atomic shells of the molecules the human body is built of. In this case, “radicals” develop. The more radicals, the more dangerous it is:

It can happen that important enzymes will become dysfunctional, or whole cell building blocks will be destroyed. The genetic material (DNA) is susceptible for ionizing radiation, too. Mutation of genetic information may occur which will be passed over to the daughter cells by the next division of cells. The higher the DNA damage, the higher the long term risk of cancer.

However, radiation is not all equal.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma

Gamma radiation goes right through a human body. Therefore, there is a chance( if the radiation level is low) that the cells keep their functionality. Through higher doses, however, genetic material may be damaged or malignant mutation of cells may occur (cancer).

Alpha radiation does not penetrate the skin. It is considered mostly harmless when remaining outside of the human body. If there is any contact with human tissue (e.g. through inhalation of radioactive dust), substances will deposit in the lungs and could cause cancer. Likewise, when these substances enter the body through contaminated food, a massive health risk occurs.

If the human body is exposed to beta radiation, burns can occur – or skin cancer as a long term result. When beta radiation enters the body (e.g. through contaminated food), substances accumulate in the body andcan damage the geneticmaterial or cause cancer (e.g. if radioactive iodine accumulates in the thyroids).

How does a Geiger counter work?

A "Geiger counter" is named after the Geiger-Mueller tube which is the core component of the device. This tube contains a thin metal wire going through its center. The space in between is sealed and filled with gas. The wire carries a charge of ca. 500 volts relative to the tube.

A nuclear particle, or gamma quant, that penetrates the tube (or an electron knocked out of the wall by X-rays or gamma rays) tears electrons off atoms in the gas.

Because of its high positive voltage, the central wire attracts the electrons. In the process, they gain energy. They collide with atoms, releasing more electrons until the process cascades into a "waterfall" producing an easily detectable pulse of current.

In which units is radioactivity measured?

The exposure rate is measured in µSv/h. Sievert is an internationally accepted unit for tissue dosage. Much of contemporary literature on the subject refers to the REM (Roentgen Equivalent Man). REMs are converted to Sieverts in the following ratios:

1 rem = 0.01 Sv = 10 mSv = 10,000 µSv

1 mrem = 0.001 rem = 10 uSv

What is Becquerel?

Becquerel, abbr. Bq,measures the activity of radioactive material.

“Activity” displays the average number of atomic nuclei that decay radioactively per second. The unit is named after the French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel, who received the Nobel Prize in 1903, together with Pierre and Marie Curie, for discovering radioactivity.

How are Becquerel and Microsievert related?

Becquerel, dose rate, and other measurements of radioactivity (Download *xls coming soon)

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