Radioactive Elements in Industry

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12494

Those tiny atoms that are squirting out radioactive waves have had a huge impact on our lives! Although potentially dangerous, they help keep us safe, healthy, and even employed! Your next career?



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


When there is a new discovery or invention, new uses seem to spring up overnight. Where do these discoveries come from, and how has radioactivity been employed?

Some discoveries are accidents, like the discovery of penicillin to treat infections!

Some discoveries are the result of careful study, like the application of radioactivity in a wide range of uses from agriculture to medicine. Radioactive elements are used in many common industrial processes that protect the environment and consumers.

Before continuing, if you skipped or need to review the five previous Radioactivity Related Lessons, find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Industries like the automobile and aircraft industries use radioactive isotopes and gamma radiation to check for weaknesses in the steel and metals used in the engines. If the rays are able to penetrate the metallic surface, the material might be damaged. This protects the consumer from having engine failure once in use.

Another common use of radioactivity in industry involves gauges. Gauges are used to determine how much radiation is absorbed by a material, either solid, liquid, or gas. Materials that are assessed using gauges even include the roads you drive on! These tools are easy to use and replace if damaged and require very little radiation to operate. That makes them pretty safe for large-scale use in many industries.

One of the most common uses of radioactive elements involves introducing radioactive material into a pipe or a well as a tracer. The material flows through the open space, emitting a constant stream of radiation. When the radiation decreases, it indicates a blockage or a leak. This can help aid oil and mining industries with protecting the environment and ensuring a supply of their products.

There are radioactive elements that are used to screen your luggage at the airport, analyze soil samples, and determine if lead is present in paint found in older homes. In each of these applications, the radioactivity provides a valuable tool for understanding something about our world. Industries have taken these elements and put them to use in a variety of ways to improve products and consumer experience.

In the Got It? section, learn more about how radiation is used in agriculture.

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