Smoke Detectors and Americium-241
Ionization smoke detectors use an ionization chamber and a source of ionizing radiation to detect smoke. This type of smoke detector is more common because it is inexpensive and better at detecting the smaller amounts of smoke produced by flaming fires. Inside an ionization detector is a small amount (perhaps 1/5000th of a gram) of americium-241. The radioactive element americium has a half-life of 432 years, and is a good source of alpha particles.
Another way to talk about the amount of americium in the detector is to say that a typical detector contains 0.9 microcurie of americium-241. A curie is a unit of measure for nuclear material. If you are holding a curie of something in your hand, you are holding an amount of material that undergoes 37,000,000,000 nuclear transformations per second. Generally, that means that 37 billion atoms in the sample are decaying and emitting a particle of nuclear radiation (such as an alpha particle) per second. One gram of of the element radium generates approximately 1 curie of activity (Marie Curie, the woman after whom the curie is named, did much of her research using radium).
Food irradiation is a method of treating food in order to make it safer to eat and have a longer shelf life. This process is not very different from other treatments such as pesticide application, canning, freezing and drying. The end result is that the growth of disease-causing microorganisms or those that cause spoilage are slowed or are eliminated altogether. This makes food safer and also keeps it fresh longer.
Significant progress has been made in this field of study since the discovery of radioactivity and its properties. One application is carbon-14 dating. Recalling that all biologic organisms contain a given concentration of carbon-14, we can use this information to help solve questions about when the organism died. It works like this. When an organism dies it has a specific ratio by mass of carbon-14 to carbon-12 incorporated in the cells of it's body. (The same ratio as in the atmosphere.) At the moment of death, no new carbon-14 containing molecules are metabolized, therefore the ratio is at a maximum. After death, the carbon-14 to carbon-12 ratio begins to decrease because carbon-14 is decaying away at a constant and predictable rate. Remembering that the half-life of carbon-14 is 5700 years, then after 5700 years half as much carbon-14 remains within the organism.
U-238 is used for dating rocks. U-238 (half-life of 4.5 billion years) decays to lead-206. The ratio of U-238 to Pb-206, present in a rock, can be used to determine the age of a rock.
Vitamin B 12 can be tagged with a radioisotope of cobalt to study the absorption of the vitamin from the gastrointestinal tract.
Compounds tagged with Fe-59 and Fe-55 are used to study the absorption of iron.
Glucose tagged with carbon-11 (half-life, 20.3 minutes and positron decay mode) circulates through the body, and the positrons emitted in the heart, brain or some other organ are monitored by a PET detector. A computer uses this information to construct an image (called a PET scan) of the organ that is being examined. PET scans have been used to study the effects of drugs on cancers, to measure damage in victims of stroke or heart attack, and to study chemical changes that occur during epileptic seizures.
Melvin Calvin, a biochemist, labeled CO2 with C-14 and worked out the process by which plants photosynthesize carbohydrate from CO2 and H2O
Detection of Disease
Iodine-131, a beta emitter, is taken as sodium iodide in drinking water. Almost all of it will find its way to the thyroid. The rate of iodine-131 uptake, determined with a Geiger counter or other scanning device, indicates whether the thyroid glands are functioning properly.
Sodium chloride containing sodium-24, can be injected into the bloodstream to study blood circulation. The beta particles emitted by the sodium-24 are followed and an impaired circulation is immediately detected.
A thallium-201 compound injected into the bloodstream will concentrate in normal heart muscle but will not remain in damaged tissue. A photograph with a nuclear scintillation camera allows the physician to locate the damaged areas.
Technetium-99m is used for locating brain tumors and damaged heart cells.Technetium-99m is probably the most widely used radioisotope in medicine today; it is a decay product, of molybdenum-99.
Treatment of Disease
Radium-226 and cobalt-60 are used in cancer therapy.
Past Regents Questions- Usually #49 or #50
June 2003-(1) 14-C (3)32-P