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Applications of Radiation

The radiation emitted by radioactive atoms is used for a number of purposes apart from dating objects.

Radioactive atoms can be detected easily because of the radiation they emit. This allows scientists to track the location of a small sample of radioactive atoms—for example doctors track how a substance spreads through the body and oceanographers track the movement of water currents. Only very small amounts of radioactive elements are needed for this.

Some smoke alarms use the radiation emitted by a radioactive sample to detect fire. Smoke interferes with the radiation emitted by the atoms. This change in radiation levels sets off the alarm.

The interaction of matter with the radiation produced by radioactive atoms can be used to determine the composition and structure of unknown substances.

Larger amounts of radiation can be used to destroy cancerous cells as an alternative to chemotherapy.

One well-known use of radioactivity is nuclear power. The energy released by radioactive decay can boil water, and the steam is then used to generate electricity. Nuclear power involves the use of much larger quantities of radioactive material than other uses of radioactivity.


Tritium concentration in the Pacific Ocean
magnifyMapping ocean currents


A cancer patient undergoing radiation therapy
magnifyRadiation used in medicine


Nuclear power plant
magnifyNuclear power plant
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