Beta Particles and Ionization
Can beta particles cause ionization of the media they
Yes. Alpha, beta, gamma, X, and energetic neutron radiation are all
Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois
Yes, beta particles can cause ionization. There is a very simple reason for
this: beta particles are electrons. When first discovered, it was not
known what beta radiation was. Then it was discovered that beta radiation
is negatively charged particles. Later, specific charge and mass were
identified. They are electrons.
Beta radiation is a neutron breaking up to a proton, an electron, and a
neutrino. The neutrino doesn't do much: a neutral particle that can pass
through the entire Earth without interacting. The proton tends to remain
within the atom. The electron has enough energy to exit the atom, often
exiting the entire piece of radioactive material.
An electron can join onto another atom, temporarily making it a negative
ion. It can knock another electron free from an atom, making it a positive
ion. It can also join with a proton to form a neutron (beta decay in
reverse), making a negative ion. Regardless of how it happens, there are
enough particles flying through the air to eventually de-ionize any ion.
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Yes, if they are going fast enough.
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Update: June 2012