How is beta decay both a "positive" and a "negative" process?
Think back to when you were a kid. When your first baby tooth was about to fall off, you were probably overjoyed at the thought of getting a visit from the Tooth Fairy -- and of getting a nice bit of money to add to your piggy bank! But let’s say you got into some sort of accident as a teenager. Maybe you fell and hit your jaw against the concrete while attempting a skateboard trick, and perhaps in the process you lost a tooth permanently! You probably would not think a tiny addition to your wallet was enough to make up for it. In both instances, you lost a tooth, but the emotional reactions were entirely different! One was more positive of a result, the other more negative.
Beta decay is a nuclear process that allows for an atom to reach a stable proton-neutron ratio. In beta decay, two possible things may occur: the loss of an electron (β− decay), or the loss of a positron (a positively charged electron, β+ decay). β− decay will cause an increase in atomic number by one, while β+ decay will cause a decrease in atomic number by one.
- Research: Has the process of beta decay ever been harnessed for useful applications? You may refer to the links in the "Resources" section. (Hint: medicine.)
- Research: Which elements or particles are capable of undergoing beta decay? You may refer to the links in the "Resources" section.
- Think back to the other types of radioactive decay (alpha, gamma, etc.). In terms of penetration strength, where does beta decay rank? You may refer to the links in the "Resources" section.