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What is a radioactive isotope

What are the uses of Radioisotopes?

Nuclei which do not emit radiations naturally are called stable nuclei. In general, most of the nuclei with atomic number 1 to 82 are stable nuclei. While the elements whose atomic number is greater than 82 are naturally unstable. They emit different types of radiations, all the time, and hence continuously change from one type of element to another.

The stable and non-radioactive elements can also be changed into radioactive elements by bombarding them with protons, neutrons or alpha particles. Such artificially produced radioactive elements are called radioactive isotopes or radioisotopes. Here  are some example of the production of radioisotopes:

             equation of isotope

Uses of Radioisotopes:

Radioisotopes are frequently used in medicine, industry and agriculture for variety of useful purposes. Following are few applications of radioisotopes is different field.

1. Tracers:

Radioactive tracers are chemical compounds containing some quantity of radioisotope. They can be used to explore the metabolism of chemical reactions inside they human body, animals or plants. Radioisotopes are used as tracers in medicine, industry and agriculture. For example, radio-iodine-131 readily accumulates in the thyroid gland and can be used for the monitoring of thyroid functioning. For the diagnosis of brain tumor phosphorous -32 is used. The malignant part of the body absorbs more quantity of isotopes, and this helps in tracing the effected part of the body.

In industry tracers can be used to locate the wear and tear of the moving parts of the machinery. They can be used for the location of leaks in underground pipes. By introducing a suitable radioactive tracer into the pipe, the leak can be conveniently traced from higher activity in the region of  crack in the pipe.

In agriculture, radio phosphorous-32 is used as a tracer to find out how well the plants are absorbing the phosphate fertilizer which are crucial to their growth.

2. Medical Treatment:

Radioisotopes are also used in nuclear medicines for curing various diseases. For example, radioactive cobalt-60 is used for curing cancerous tumors and cells. These radiations kill the cells of the malignant tumor in the patient.

3.Carbon Dating:

Radioactive carbon-14 is present in small amount in the atmosphere. Live plants use carbon dioxide and therefore becomes slightly radioactive.

radioactive dating

When a tree dies, the radio carbon-14 present inside the plant starts decaying. Since the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years, the age of the dead tree can be calculated by comparing the activity of carbon-14 in the live and dead tree. The activity of the live tree remains almost constant as the carbon-14 is being replenished while the carbon-14 in the dead tree is no more  replenished. Therefore, by measuring the activity in the ancient relic, scientists can estimate its age.

Other isotopes are also used to estimate the age of geological specimens. For example, some rocks contain the unstable potassium isotope K-40. This decay to the stable argon nuclide Ar-40 with half-life of 2.4 ×108  years. The age of rock sample can be estimated by comparing the concentrations of K-40 and Ar-40.

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