Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable 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.
The three principal modes of decay are called the alpha, beta and gamma decays. We already introduced the general principles of radioactive decay in Section 1.3 and we studied more in depth alpha decay in Section 3.3. In this chapter we consider the other two type of radioactive decay, beta and gamma decay, making use of our knowledge of quantum mechanics and nuclear structure.
- 7.1: Gamma Decay
- Gamma decay is the third type of radioactive decay. Unlike the two other types of decay, it does not involve a change in the element. It is just a simple decay from an excited to a lower (ground) state. In the process of course some energy is released that is carried away by a photon. Similar processes occur in atomic physics, however there the energy changes are usually much smaller, and photons that emerge are in the visible spectrum or x-rays.
- 7.2: Beta Decay
- The beta decay is a radioactive decay in which a proton in a nucleus is converted into a neutron (or vice-versa). In the process the nucleus emits a beta particle (either an electron or a positron) and quasi-massless particle, the neutrino.
Thumbnail: Beta particle emission of a nucleus.( Public Domain; Inductiveload via Wikipedia)