Radioactive Decay

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12500

When we think of decay, we usually think about rotting, worthless fruits and vegetables. However, the fruit of radioactive decay has brought benefit (and danger!) to our world. Form your own opinion!

categories

Chemistry

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

When we hear of "scientific breakthroughs," we think of a beneficial advancement in helping humanity. However, there can be negative effects. How might scientific discoveries have positive and negative impacts on the world?

Before continuing, if you missed or would like to review the previous Radioactivity Related Lesson on radioactive elements, find it in the right-hand sidebar.

Science often pushes the boundaries of what humans know and understand.

As humans learn more about the world, there are new questions and ethical dilemmas to face. The discovery of nuclear decay was a scientific discovery that brought about new ways of creating energy, but also destructive new weapons.

The discovery of nuclear decay started with Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, who noticed that some elements glowed, or fluoresced. He suggested that this was because the elements were emitting rays.

His work was supported by Henri Becquerel, who outlined the difference between radioactivity and x-rays in 1896. X-rays are electromagnetic waves, energy moving as waves through the atmosphere, and radioactivity originates from energy released from the nucleus of an atom.

Becquerel was followed by Pierre and Marie Curie, working around the same time (late 1800s), a married couple who worked together on radioactivity. Marie Curie developed the term "radioactivity," and applied it to the phenomenon that Becquerel and Roentgen had observed.

Pierre developed a tool that could measure the current emitted from a radioactive element. Marie Curie used this measurement tool to identify uranium, thorium, radium, and polonium as radioactive around the turn of the 19th century. In 1911, she won her second Nobel Prize for the discovery of the elements polonium and radium.

The Curies worked closely with radioactive elements and took minimal precaution. While Pierre died in an accident, Marie experienced illness related to her constant exposure to radioactivity.

Ernest Rutherford, the scientist who discovered the atomic nucleus around 1900, also noticed that elements could change into another element if protons were added or subtracted.

The discovery of radioactivity was a breakthrough in scientific understanding. It provided a way to generate energy from atomic nuclei in a controlled way. Humans use radioactivity in a number of ways, including treating cancer, creating power for our homes, and preserving food. However, radiation exposure can cause damage to the body and environment.

On a sheet of paper, brainstorm ten ways that radiation could positively or negatively impact you. If needed, you can access resources online to complete this.

In the Got It? section, you will conduct some research on the advantages and drawbacks of radioactivity.

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