Ionising radiation and you, what is ionising radiation?
The term radiation is passed around frequently in our day to day lives, the definition of radiation being the emission of energy in the form of either a sub atomic particle, or an electromagnetic wave – including things such as light from a light bulb or the low frequency waves that are used to heat up your food in a microwave, however, if something as trivial as light itself can be considered radiation.
Then why is it we don’t need to protect ourselves from it in the same way we would from X-rays used in CT scanners or the radioactive waste of a nuclear powerplant?
The key difference here is a property of radiation that is defined as ionisation. Let’s explore.
Ionisation (ionization) is the process of removing/adding electrons that are bound to atoms in order to give that atom a non-zero charge through the interaction of radiation with the electrons orbiting an atom, providing the radiation has sufficient energy to provide or eject an electron to the atom. Radiation such as that from a light bulb (electromagnetic radiation with a frequency between 4 x 1014 Hz to 8 x 1014 Hz) will interact with atoms, but the energy supplied to the atom is too little to cause an electron to break its bond from the atom, break free and therefore undergo ionisation. This is why we can sit under something such as an LED bulb and not be concerned about any adverse effects (besides blinding); however, things start to look a little different when we start to increase the frequency of the light. Working up the spectrum, we enter the realm of UV light (frequencies of 8 x 1014 Hz up to 3 x 1016 Hz).
Although still not as energetic as X-rays, UV radiation is known to have substantial consequences on our skin through overexposure from sunlight, tanning beds, etc. Beyond UV light is the frequency range of significant importance to the topic at hand – electromagnetic waves with frequencies above 3 x 1016 Hz are the infamous X-rays, and further up the line, gamma rays. These waves are the utilised in medical applications due to their high energy, and as a result, the ability to penetrate soft tissue and interact with cells within the body via ionisation, making X-rays and gamma rays a form of ionising radiation unlike the aforementioned frequency ranges of electromagnetic waves.
When an atom becomes ionised, the charge of the atom is altered to be either positive or negative. This change in electric charge can cause alterations in the targeted area that would not have occurred naturally due to potential bonds being broken and new formations being formed between atoms – this can result in mutations of DNA, killing of cells, and in some cases result in death.
X-rays and gamma rays are a fundamental part of our medical system, providing useful in situations such as radiotherapy for cancer treatment, imaging for internal viewing of the body and various other applications. Although the uses of ionising radiation can be in most circumstances lifesaving, it is important to note that they must not be taken lightly due to the potential damage they can cause, making protection against ionising radiation essential, ensuring for as minimum exposure as physically possible, whether it be the amount of time exposed to the radiation or avoiding being in its presence all together. This is why Raybloc X-ray protective products are utilised by the medical sector over the entirety of the United Kingdom; providing hospitals, dental practices, veterinaries, research centres, and more with top-of-the-line products, ensuring that those who work in environments involving ionising radiation can do so with the 100% confidence that they are safe behind our equipment to radiation protection advising standards.
With your new-found knowledge, the next time somebody tells you that 5G will be the death of the human race, kindly inform them of the science behind non-ionising and ionising radiation. If they’re still concerned, be sure to send them to Raybloc X-ray Protection for the finest quality in lead-lined shielding.