beta decay

what is beta decay

Beta decay occurs when an unstable nucleus emits a beta particle and energy. A beta particle is either an electron or a positron. An electron is a negatively charged particle, and a positron is a positively charged electron (or anti- electron). When the beta particle is an electron, the decay is called beta-minus decay. When the beta particle is a positron, the decay is called beta-plus decay. Beta-minus decay occurs when a nucleus has too many neutrons relative to protons, and beta-plus decay occurs when a nucleus has too few neutrons relative to protons. Q: Nuclei contain only protons and neutrons, so how can a nucleus emit an electron in beta-minus decay or a positron in beta-plus decay? A: Beta decay begins with a proton or neutron. You can see how in the Figure 1.1. Q: How does beta decay change an atom to a different element? A: In beta-minus decay an atom gains a proton, and it beta-plus decay it loses a proton. In each case, the atom becomes a different element because it has a different number of protons.

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which nuclei decay

Atoms with unstable nuclei are radioactive. To become more stable, the nuclei undergo radioactive decay. In radioactive decay, the nuclei emit energy and usually particles of matter as well. There are several types of radioactive decay, including alpha, beta, and gamma decay. Energy is emitted in all three types of decay, but only alpha and beta decay also emit particles.

equations for beta decay

Radioactive nuclei and particles are represented by nuclear symbols.. For example, a beta-minus particle (electron) is represented by the symbol 01 e. The subscript -1 represents the particles charge, and the superscript 0 shows that the particle has virtually no mass (no protons or neutrons). Another example is the radioactive nucleus of thorium-234. It is represented by the symbol 234 90 Th, where the subscript 90 stands for the number of protons and the superscript 234 for the number of protons plus neutrons. Nuclear symbols are used to write nuclear equations for radioactive decay. Lets consider the example of the beta- minus decay of thorium-234 to protactinium-234. This reaction is represented by the equation: 234 Th 90 0 234 91 Pa + 1 e + energy The equation shows that thorium-234 becomes protactinium-234 and loses a beta particle and energy. The protactinium- 234 produced in the reaction is also radioactive, so it will decay as well. A nuclear equation is balanced if the total numbers of protons and neutrons are the same on both sides of the arrow. If you compare the subscripts and superscripts on both sides of the equation above, youll see that they are the same. Q: What happens to the electron produced in the reaction above? A: Along with another electron, it can combine with an alpha particle to form a helium atom. An alpha particle, which is emitted during alpha decay, consists of two protons and two neutrons. Q: Try to balance the following nuclear equation for beta-minus decay by filling in the missing subscript and superscript. 131 I 53 ?? Xe + 01 e + energy A: The subscript of Xe is 54, and the superscript is 131.

dangers of beta decay

Beta particles can travel about a meter through air. They can pass through a sheet of paper or a layer of cloth but not through a sheet of aluminum or a few centimeters of wood. They can also penetrate the skin and damage underlying tissues. They are even more harmful if they are ingested or inhaled.

instructional diagrams

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questions

which particle is emitted from a nucleus when it undergoes beta-minus decay?

-->  a) electron

b) positron

c) anti-electron

d) proton

beta-positive decay begins with a proton.

-->  a. true

b. false

in the following symbol for a beta-minus particle, what does the superscript represent?

a) charge

-->  b) mass

c) energy

d) none of the above

beta particles can travel only a few centimeters through the air.

a. true

-->  b. false

beta-positive decay results in a nucleus with one less proton.

-->  a. true

b. false

diagram questions

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