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Chapter 8: Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

...Sherlock's mind pursued the enigma of radiation, delving into its intricate nature and mysterious properties...

Radiation encompasses a broad range of energies forming the electromagnetic spectrum. It can be divided into two main categories: non-ionizing radiation and ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation refers to radiation with enough energy to cause atomic movement or vibrations but not sufficient to remove electrons. Examples include visible light and microwaves.

On the other hand, ionizing radiation falls within a range that possesses enough energy to remove tightly bound electrons from atoms, resulting in the creation of ions. This is the type of radiation commonly associated with the term "radiation." Ionizing radiation is utilized for generating electric power, destroying cancer cells, and various manufacturing processes.

In the spectrum, the energy of radiation increases from left to right as the frequency rises.

Image showing radiation on the spectrum
Radiation and wavelengths

Non-ionizing radiation offers various practical applications in our everyday lives:

  1. Microwave radiation is utilized for telecommunications and heating food. Microwaves are commonly used in household appliances to heat or cook food quickly and efficiently.

  2. Infrared radiation and infrared lamps are employed to keep food warm in restaurants. Infrared lamps emit infrared radiation, which can maintain the temperature of prepared food, ensuring it stays warm and appetizing for customers.

  3. Radio-wave broadcasting utilizes non-ionizing radiation to transmit information and entertainment. Radio stations use radio waves to broadcast music, news, and other forms of audio content, allowing people to receive and enjoy them using their radios or other devices capable of receiving radio signals.

These applications demonstrate how non-ionizing radiation is harnessed for everyday tasks such as communication, food preparation, and entertainment.

Non-ionizing radiation spans a wide range from extremely low-frequency radiation with long wavelengths and low frequencies, through radio frequencies with medium wavelengths and frequencies, to microwaves with shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies.

Ultraviolet radiation with higher frequencies begins to possess enough energy to break chemical bonds. X-ray and gamma ray radiation, located at the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum, have extremely high frequencies (around 100 billion billion hertz) and very short wavelengths (about 1 picometer, or 1 trillionth of a meter). This range of radiation exhibits tremendously high energy, capable of stripping off electrons or even breaking up atomic nuclei in the case of very high-energy radiation.

Ionization occurs when a portion of a molecule, typically an electron, gains enough energy to break away from the atom. This process leads to the formation of two charged particles or ions: the molecule with a net positive charge and the free electron with a negative charge.

Approximately 33 electron volts (eV) of energy are released with each ionization. The surrounding material absorbs this energy. Compared to other types of radiation, ionizing radiation deposits a significant amount of energy in a small area. In fact, the energy from one ionization event, equivalent to 33 eV, is more than sufficient to disrupt the chemical bond between two carbon atoms. All forms of ionizing radiation, directly or indirectly, are capable of removing electrons from most molecules.

Sherlock studying radiation
Sherlock studying radiation

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