Uses of Isotopes in Archeology

Uses of Isotopes in Archeology

Radioactivity can be one of the most confusing topics in science to many today. Its usefulness in a broad array of scientific arenas is undoubtedly substantial, and yet the same technology that can be used to solve problems can also be used for huge amounts of destruction and long term consequences...


Radioactivity and Radiation Safety



Radioactivity and Radiation Safety

By Matthew Eddington


Radioactivity can be one of the most confusing topics in science to many today. Its usefulness in a broad array of scientific arenas is undoubtedly substantial, and yet the same technology that can be used to solve problems can also be used for huge amounts of destruction and long term consequences.
While most people alive today have heard of radiation and its uses and potential disastrous penalties they may not know exactly what it is, and their knowledge of the subject is limited to only what they hear from news sources or medical journals. Simply put, radioactivity refers to the unpredictable release of energy from 'unstable' atoms. Unlike stable atoms, which do not change throughout their lifetime, unstable atoms break down and emit radioactivity from their nucleus as they break down (also referred to as decay). Elements such as uranium, potassium, and thorium (isotopes) decay fairly easily to form smaller, lighter atoms, while other more stable elements may take longer.
While radiation and radioactivity seem to be terms that refer to twentieth century science topics, the phenomena was actually discovered back in 1896 by Antoine Becquerel somewhat by accident. Becquerel, who studied photography and x-rays, had put photographic plates in a drawer with uranium salts. To his surprise the photographic plates became exposed without the presence of a purposefully placed energy source, as the uranium has supplied the needed energy. In honor of his work in the field, the standard unit of measure for radiation was named the Becquerel.
Medicine and fields such as archaeology have seen huge advances in their fields due to the uses of technology derived from radiation studies. In modern medicine, radioactive isotopes are used as forms of tracers to follow how certain body processes function. Once ingested the isotopes can be followed and have been extremely useful in the diagnosis of disease and the research related to solving some of medicines biggest mysteries. Archaeology on the other hand uses radiation in a much different way. Since radiation is derived primarily from natural forms, scientists have been able to find ways to use it to help define the history and length of life on the planet earth. Living organisms take in radiation through the environment through carbon, however once deceased the organism stops its intake of carbon and the amount that is present slowly decreases over time. The amount of time it takes for the decrease to happen is predictable and scientists use this information to date events that have occurred on our planet.
Although complicated the science of radiation and radioactivity has fascinated researchers due to its unlimited potential and usefulness. However the vast variety of uses also has its consequences and must be watched carefully. Perfect proof for this can be seen in the meltdown of a Ukrainian nuclear reactor that occurred during the cold war. Disastrous effects of this accident are still in effect to this day and the surrounding population and terrain will be scarred for a long period of time. Radioactive materials do have their uses, but we must be responsible with the technology and use it appropriately to help further our knowledge.
For more information and guidance about radiation, visit http://www.apnga.com. The American Portable Nuclear Guage Association specializes in radiation topics.
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Matthew Eddington author's articles for WebDrafter.com, Inc. ( http://www.webdrafter.com ), which produces Website design, hosting, and search engine marketing services.

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Uses of Isotopes in Archeology

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