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10 Examples of Beta Decay

September 12, 2023
written by Qamar Zaman

Beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a neutron in the nucleus of an atom is converted into a proton, an electron, and an antineutrino. It is a nuclear reaction.

Examples of beta decay include the decay of strontium-90 (Sr-90) to yttrium-90 (Y-90), and the decay of carbon-14 (C-14) to nitrogen-14 (N-14). 

Examples of Beta Decay

Here are 10 examples of beta decay.

image of Examples of Beta Decay

1. Carbon-14 Dating

It is a common example of beta decay. Carbon-14 undergoes beta decay with a 5,730-year half-life. By measuring the remaining carbon-14, archaeologists can date organic artifacts.

2. Strontium-90 Contamination

Strontium-90 is a radioactive waste product of nuclear reactors. Its beta decay contributes to environmental radioactivity.

3. Tritium in Watch Dials

The hydrogen isotope tritium undergoes beta decay and causes watch dials painted with it to glow dimly for years.

4. Potassium-40 in Bananas

Common potassium-40 isotopes in bananas and other foods undergo beta decay. We ingest small amounts of radiation!

5. Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors use beta decay of americium-241 to ionize air molecules. Smoke particles disrupt this ion flow.

6. Neutron Activation Analysis

Beta decay rates of bombarded samples provide fingerprints to identify materials through neutron activation.

7. Tracer Materials in Medicine

Radioactive tracers used in medicine are beta-plus emitters that decay by positron emission for PET scans.

8. Radiometric Dating

Geologists date rocks by measuring decay products from long-lived beta-decaying isotopes like rubidium-87 and uranium-238.

9. Induced Radioactivity

When bombarded by neutrons, normally stable materials can absorb a neutron and beta decay into novel radioactive isotopes.

10. Beta Particle Medical Therapy

Focused beams of beta particles are used to treat health conditions like eye cancer without penetrating too deep.

These are just a few examples of beta decay. There are many other radioactive isotopes that decay by beta emission. Beta decay is a common process in nature, and it is also used in a variety of applications, such as medical imaging and nuclear power.

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