Chem – Types of Nuclear Equations

What are the different types of nuclear equations (radioactive decay)?

Some types of nuclear equations are more commonly seen than others. The most common are the first three types of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. These can also be known as alpha, beta, and gamma decay. Alpha radiation gets its name from the alpha particle. This particle is just a helium nucleus (represented by He). The reason why it is called an alpha particle and not a helium particle is because people named this type of radiation before they knew what particles were actually involved. The same goes for the other types of radiation. The second common type of radiation, beta radiation, is named for the beta particle. The beta particle is simply an electron (represented as e or B). The third type of common radiation, gamma radiation, is named for the gamma particle. The gamma particle is simply a photon (represented by g). Because the different radiation types involve different particles they also have different penetration characteristics. That is to say some radiation particles can penetrate thicker and denser materials while others cannot. In general, the larger the particle size the worse it is at penetrating. On a scale of particle size, alpha is the biggest, while beta is in the middle, and gamma is the smallest. This means that alpha particles or alpha radiation will not penetrate materials very well. In fact, a few sheets of paper will stop alpha radiation flying at you. Since beta is smaller than alpha, beta will penetrate through a few sheets of paper. However, beta particles will be stopped by a thick piece of wood. Since gamma is the smallest type of particle, it will penetrate thick wood and even some metal. To stop gamma you need a very dense piece of metal like lead. This is why you wear a lead apron when you take an x-ray at the doctors. It stops the intense rays like x-rays or gamma rays. The examples of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation are displayed in the nuclear equations below. Be able to recognize and name them if you see them.


Examples: The different types of radiation are shown below. The sections in red determine which types of radiation they are. Everything else but the sections in red can change.



50 V → 46 Sc + 4 He
23 21 2



68 Zn → 68 Ga + 0 e
30 31 -1



53 Cr → 52 Cr + 1 n + 0 g
24 24 0 0


PRACTICE PROBLEMS: Give the missing element in the nuclear equations and classify the nuclear equations as alpha, beta, or gamma radiation.


76 As → 76 Se + 0 e
33 34 -1

Answer: Beta


4 He + 14 N → 18 F
2 7 9

Answer: Alpha


0 g+ 24 Mg + 14 C → + 38 Ar
0 12 6 18

Answer: Gamma


0 e + 14 N → 18 F
-1 7 9

Answer: Beta


42 Ca → 38 Ar + 4 He
20 18 2

Answer: Alpha


58 Co → 40 K + 18 O + 0 g
27 19 8 0

Answer: Gamma


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