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The effects of the alpha, beta and gamma radiation on humans

  1. Aug 14, 2012 #1
    I have had a great deal of trouble finding sources that are specific as to how exactly radiation damages the body, it usually just says what damage radiation causes but not how it causes it, so I have compiled what I have found and I want to know if it is accurate and to fill in sequence of events that happens when radiation causes damage.

    So Alpha particles can physically collide with atoms and molecules inside the body:
    1) Knocking protons and nucleons out of atoms, making them unstable, causing them to decay. No information on why this is a bad thing. Can't cells just be repaired?

    2) Causing physical damage to molecules by breaking them apart which causes problems if the dna of the cell is damaged because it can not always be repaired properly

    3) knock or attract electrons away from cells, ionizing them (why is this a problem? somehow causes cancer, cells are made of trillions of atoms)

    4) ionze water and air in the body (why is this a problem?, ionized oxygen molecules are called free radicals, nothing specific as to how how they cause damage, not sure why ionized air molecules are bad)

    Due to their large size they cannot travel very far without colliding with many things, which drains their energy giving them a very small range - typically a few centimetres in air.

    Their positive charge makes them more effective at ionizing atoms than other fast moving particles as they attract electrons away from atoms, but do not take the electrons for themselves when moving at high speed. All fast moving particles can cause the type of damage mentioned above.

    Beta particles

    When a beta particle passes an atom, it tends to push electrons off the atom ionizing cells , water and oxygen in the body, no mention on how this is achieved. Do they collide with the electrons, pushing them off?

    Beta particles have much less mass than alpha particles, so they collide with less objects when moving through the atmosphere, so lose less energy during travel and thus have a longer range - typically a few metres in air. They are not as effective as ionizing as alpha particles because alpha particles have a positive charge which attracts electrons away from atoms, beta particles do not.

    Gamma waves

    ionizes and somehow damages cells, cant find anything specific on how it causes damage. Doesn't ionize atoms directly but does something to atoms which causes them to expel electrons (how does it do this?)

    Is an electromagnetic wave, has infinite range but it is blocked by something which can absorb it like lead.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2012 #2


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    Science Advisor

    google "biological radiation damage". You will get a whole slew of articles.
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