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What are the different types of radiation?

We encounter radiation on a daily basis. It can come from the air, plants, the food we eat, and even more places. Usually, these radiation doses are at such low levels that they do not cause any harmful side effects. Keep in mind that there are different types of radiation. Some can be harmful, while others are harmless. It all depends on what type they are, the amount you are exposed to, and the frequency. 


At Med-Pro, we provide quality radiation badges to save you from extra trips to your doctor. If you are interested in knowing the different types of radiation, here’s the basic information that you need.


Related: Dosimetry Badge Use & Misuse

What is radiation?

Before we dive into the different types of radiation, let’s look at the basics of radiation structure. Radiation is energy that matter emits in the form of high-speed particles. Keep in mind that all matter contain atoms, but not all compounds or mixtures emit high degrees of radiation.


Atoms contain a nucleus that has tiny particles called protons and neutrons. The outer shell of the atom contains a particle called electrons. The nucleus carries a positive charge while the electrons carry a negative charge. These forces work together to get remove excess radioactive material. However, when the nuclei are unstable, they may emit radiation.

Alpha radiation

Alpha radiations is massive and travels at a short-range distance, and these particles release the nuclei of the element helium (He), which consists of a single proton. They do not penetrate the human skin, but are harmful to humans if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed. 


There are various instruments that detect alpha radiation and they each require specialized training to use them. For example, thin-window Geiger-Mueller is an excellent device that detects alpha radiation. These devices can identify alpha radiation through a thin layer of water, paper, dust, or any material that the alpha radiation cannot penetrate. 


Keep in mind that alpha radiation only travels a short distance, only traversing several  inches in the air. They can’t even penetrate clothing. An excellent example of alpha radiation are the elements radon, uranium, radium, and thorium.

Beta Radiation

Beta radiation is lightweight and consists of short-range particles that release electrons. They can travel several feet in the air and cause moderate penetration. They can penetrate through the human skin to the germinal layer where the skin cells are created. 


High levels of beta radiation can penetrate the skin if you are exposed to them for an extended period. However, they may cause significant injury. If the beta-emitting substances deposit radiation internally, it can be extremely harmful. You can use a thin window GM probe to detect the majority of the beta radiation. Some beta-producing substances emit such low energy with such little penetrating capability that it’s practically impossible to detect. For example, hydrogen 3, sulfur 35, and carbon 14 are difficult to measure. Fortunately, clothing provides protection against some beta radiation.


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Gamma and x-ray radiation

Gamma and x-ray radiation have deeper penetrative capabilities. They share similar characteristics, so they are often classified together. Both gamma and x-ray radiation can travel many feet in the air and through human tissue. Since they can penetrate different types of material, they are usually referred to as penetrating radiation. They often exist in sealed radioactive sources to prevent an external hazard to humans. 


They’re similar to visible light, ultraviolet light, and radio waves. This electromagnetic radiation only differs in the amount of energy that it contain. Keep in mind that gamma and x-rays are considered the most energetic form of radiation in comparison to alpha and beta radiation. 


Dense materials are required to shield from x-ray and gamma radiation. Unfortunately, clothing does not provide adequate protection. Gamma radiation can be detected by a survey meter with a sodium iodide detector probe. During radioactive decay, both gamma and x-ray will require alpha and beta emission. An example of gamma radiation would be cesium 137, cobalt 60, iodine 131, radium 226, and technetium 99.


Neutrons are high-speed particles that have an excellent ability to penetrate any material. Along with protons and electrons, neutrons are one of the basic building blocks of substances. They have a negative charge. Neutrons utilize a process called neutron activation, which creates radioactive sources that are used in the academic, medical, and nuclear industry. They can make any objects radioactive because of their ability to penetrate any material. In addition to that, neutrons can travel a long distance in the air and require thick materials like water or concrete to block them. Luckily, neutron radiation only occurs in a nuclear reactor that is protected within many feet of water.

What can a dosimeter do?

When you are working in a nuclear power plant, hospital, or anywhere with a constant dosage of radiation, it’s essential to know how much you are absorbing. Fortunately, a radiation badge or dosimeter is designed to fit in some regions of your body to measure the amount of radiation that you are exposed to. If you are over a certain threshold, the dosimeter will alert you and provide a report to explain that it’s time for you to take a break from a specific location to prevent further exposure to the radiation.


Check out Med-Pro’s radiation badges for your facility here.

Protect against radiation

When it comes to radiation prevention, the three components that we should think of are time, distance, and shielding. It’s essential to limit your exposure to radiation. That means the longer you’re exposed to it, the more likely you are to develop symptoms and complications. You should also increase the distance between you and the location with the radiation. That way, the higher the distance, the lower the vulnerability to any danger.


Shielding is another component that plays a vital role in prevention. Barriers such as water, concrete, and lead can provide a robust protective strategy from penetrating electromagnetic radiation such as x-ray, gamma, or neutrons. This is why certain materials are stored underwater or in concrete because they are an excellent shield to protect you. For example, the dentist often uses lead blankets on their patient who is receiving x-rays for their teeth. When you insert the proper shield, you can be better protected from the radiation source.


Radiation comes in various types, such as alpha, beta, gamma, x-ray, and neutrons. Each of these particles has different characteristics. For example, alpha and beta travel a short distance, whereas gamma, x-ray, and neutrons can travel at higher distances. Alpha radiation is the only one that does not penetrate the human skin, whereas the others can penetrate through the human body system. 


With all this in mind, it’s best to obtain a dosimeter to know the amount of radiation that your body is absorbing. Plus, the dosimeter will warn you when you go above the threshold. If you are working near these radiation particles, it is vital to know some prevention techniques such as reducing your time, increasing your distance, and wearing a proper shield to decrease exposure to radiation. 


Fortunately, we have what you need to protect yourself from radiation at Med-Pro.


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