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Tips for Nuclear Radiation Equations - Concept

Teacher/Instructor Jonathan Fong
Jonathan Fong

M.Ed.,San Francisco State Univ.

Jonathan has been teaching since 2000 and currently teaches chemistry at a top-ranked high school in San Francisco.

Here are some tips and tricks for writing nuclear radiations equations. And so there are 4 main types of radiations that you’ll probably encounter in your chemistry class. And the first type is called an alpha particle, and an alpha looks kind of like this, with the letter right there. So you have basically a helium atom with the mass number of 4, and then the atomic number is 2. And so you have a helium atom. So enough particle you would know that that's a helium atom.

You also have another type particle called a beta particle. You might see it as beta or beta negative. And so, basically what you have is, you have a mass number 0, -1 and you have an e, because the beta particle is also known as an electron. It has an atomic number of -1 because remember, electrons have a negative charge. Or you might see it as 0 over -1 with a beta right here.

And then, the next set that you have there, is gamma. And so gamma radiation usually accompanies other decay processes. So you usually have zero over zero, because it has relatively very little mass and that’s the gamma sign. So this his a gamma. And so as you know, gamma radiation is usually really bad. And so a lot of nuclear explosions, or nuclear bombs, or others things like that release gamma radiation. And gamma radiation is the worst form of electromagnetic radiation that we know right now.

Then you’ll also have a positron. And a positron basically combines two words; positive and electron. And so for those who are in English class you know what oxymoron is. Positive, electron is actually kind of a misnomer. And so it’s actually zero over 1, so it has a mass number of 1 and has an e here. So the charge will be +1, so it’s a positive electron. So you have a positron. And so, basically what happens is, you have different types of decay and in nuclear radiation problems, you want to figure out what type of particles released or what the other thing is.

So in our first example that we have here, we have 206 over 84 Po. And iif we’re told that this undergoes alpha decay, then what we know is that we'll write 4 over 2 He. And then we want to find out what the other particle is. So what we do is, the yield sign in chemistry, is like an equal sign in math. So that mean that everything on the left side of the yield sign would be on one side, and then the yield sign is like an equal sign. And then what we want to do is, we want to make sure that the mass numbers total each other on the opposite sides. So the mass number total each other on the opposite side.

So we say 206 equals 4 plus, blank, well easy math or algebra says that, 4 plus 202 will get us 206, because the yields sign is like the equal sign. So that’s easy math, that should be pretty easy for everyone. And then also the atomic numbers should also do the same thing. They should also total each other on opposite sides. And so, if we have 84 equals 2 plus blank, well 2 plus 82 gets me 84.

And the last thing is we want out what the element symbol is. Well which one will get that element number? Well you take a look at the atomic number, because remember each atomic number tells you elements rule. So each atomic number corresponds to a particular elements. So if we look at 82, that corresponds the Lead or Pb, and so that will be the other particle that's produced and so you have in that decay. So we will do one more, so don’t forget very easy.

Nuclear chemistry is just like math. So you make the yield sign like an equal sign and you just make both the tops of set of numbers equals on both side of that equal sign or that yield sign, and then make sure that the atomic number is also equal on both sides. And then to figure out the elements that you have, you will just take a look at the atomic number.