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Science

Radioactive substances

Penetrating properties of radiation

Radiation can be absorbed by substances in its path. For example, alpha radiation travels only a few centimetres in air, beta radiation travels tens of centimetres in air and gamma radiation travels many metres. All types of radiation become less intense the further the distance from the radioactive material, as the particles or rays become more spread out.

The thicker the substance, the more the radiation is absorbed. The three types of radiation penetrate materials in different ways.

Alpha radiation

Alpha radiation is the least penetrating. It can be stopped - or absorbed - by just a sheet of paper.

Beta radiation

Beta radiation can penetrate air and paper. It can be stopped by a thin sheet of aluminium.

Gamma radiation

Gamma radiation is the most penetrating. Even small levels can penetrate air, paper or thin metal. Higher levels can only be stopped by many centimetres of lead or many metres of concrete.

alpha radiation cannot pass through humans, beta is stopped by aluminium, gamma by lead

Penetrative properties of different types of radiation

Check your understanding by having a go at this animation. Click on each image of the rock to discover the reading on the radiation meter. Use the readings to confirm that the rock gives out beta radiation.

Back to Radiation and the Universe index

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