Ionizing Radiation Basics

Radiation Basics

Radiation is defined as an energy that comes from a source and travels through space and may be able to penetrate various materials. There are two types of radiation, non-ionizing and ionizing radiation.

Non-Ionizing Radiation

Microwaves, radio waves, and light are types of non-ionizing radiation sources. Non-ionizing radiation is any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy to ionize atoms or molecules. Ionization is when an atom or molecule gains either a positive or a negative charge.

Ionizing radiation has a higher frequency and shorter wavelength than non-ionizing radiation. Most non-ionizing radiation, such as microwave energy, is only harmful to the extent of the amount of heat transferred to whatever it hits. When cooking food with a microwave, the food is safe to handle and eat once the energy has been transferred from the microwave to the food. There is one energy non-ionizing radiation source that can be pose a health threat and that energy source is ultraviolet light. Exposure to UV radiation can increase the risk of cancer due to damage to DNA molecules.

Ionizing Radiation  The focus of radiation protection is directed towards ionizing radiation as there is an increased health threat to humans. Ionizing radiation is caused by unstable atoms giving off energy to reach a more stable state, exposure to ionizing radiation is a cause of concern since it can change the basic makeup of atoms in cells, and more specifically the DNA molecules inside of cells. Ionizing radiation is commonly used in medicine and research, but presents a health hazard if proper radiation protection measures are not followed. Individuals exposed to ionizing radiation without proper radiation protection can suffer damage to living tissue, and can cause mutation, radiation sickness, cancer and in extreme cases death.

The Different Types Of Ionizing Radiation  There are a variety of types of ionizing radiation and they are all caused by unstable atoms, which either have an excess of energy or mass, or in some instances both. To reach a stable state, unstable atoms must release the extra energy or mass in the form of radiation.