What is Radiation? Uses, Theories, types, and side effects

What is Radiation?

The radiation. It is a form of energy that comes from various sources, some created by man as X-ray machines, and other natural as the Sun and outer space and some radioactive materials such as uranium on Earth.

What is Radiation

Exposure to that energy carries some dangers to the health of living beings, including humans.

Small amounts of radioactive materials can be found naturally in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the food we eat, and even in our own bodies. These elements within the organism cause what is known as internal exposure.

Definition of Radiation

Radiation (from Latin radiatio) is the action and effect of irradiating (emitting rays of light, heat or other energy). For physics, it is wave energy or material particles that propagate through space.

Radiation is a form of energy in motion that propagates through waves invisible to the human eye, such as thermal radiation or light.

Other types of radiation are those that occur in small particles that escape from atoms at a very high speed (for example, radiation that occurs in nuclear power plants).

Radiation, from the discovery to its uses

As a form of invisible energy, radiation was discovered at the end of the 19th century in the form of different advances (X-rays, radium or cathodic radiation).

These achievements meant a spectacular scientific leap for different disciplines: electromagnetism, astronomy, medicine and, in general, for the understanding of nature as a whole.

The discovery of radiation (and later of radioactivity) implied that in matter there are forces that allow energy to be obtained if they disintegrate. Those investigations were crucial for the development of nuclear energy.

Types of radiation

There are different types of radiation. Electromagnetic radiation is that which involves the propagation of energy through the combination of oscillating electric and magnetic fields.

The electromagnetic spectrum is known as the energy distribution of electromagnetic waves, ranging from gamma rays (whose wavelength is measured in picómetros) to radio waves (with wavelengths that can be measured in kilometers).

Corpuscular radiation

Corpuscular radiation consists of the propagation of subatomic particles that move at high speed with a wave character.

Said particles can be charged or discharged from the electrical point of view.

Solar radiation is the set of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Sun that determines

  • The temperature on Earth.
  • Ionizing radiation.

Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, propagates enough energy to ionize matter. This means that ionizing radiation produces ions and extracts the electrons from the state bound to the atom.

X-ray generators and particle accelerators are examples of ionizing radiation. It is important to keep in mind that ionizing radiation produces effects on living matter. That’s why it can be used for radiotherapy treatments in oncology, for example.

Ionizing radiation can also be harmful to living beings since excessive exposure to this type of radiation can cause poisoning and interfere with the process of cell division.
Types of radiation.

According to your interaction with the subject:

  • Alfa: With a limited capacity of penetration in the matter, but a lot of energy intensity.
  • Beta: Something more penetrating, but less intense than alpha radiation.
  • Gamma: It is the most penetrating radiation of all.

Types of Radiation

  1. Electromagnetic radiation
  2. Ionizing radiation
  3. Thermal radiation
  4. Radiation of Vavilov-Cherenkov
  5. Corpuscular radiation
  6. Solar radiation
  7. Supervoltage radiation
  8. Nuclear radiation
  9. Black body radiation
  10. Non-ionizing radiation
  11. Antimatter radiation
  12. Cosmic radiation

Dangers of radiation in health

Radiation can affect the body in different ways and it is possible that the negative effects on health are not evident for many years.

These effects can be mild, such as redness of the skin, to be much more serious as cancer and death depending on the dose, ie the amount of radiation absorbed by the body.

It will also depend on the type of radiation, the form of exposure and the duration of it. Exposure to very large doses of radiation can cause death in a few days or months.

Exposure to low doses of radiation can increase the risk of developing cancer or other health problems during the course of life.

Acute radiation syndrome or radiation sickness is usually caused when a person receives, in a few minutes, a high dose of radiation in most of their body.

The survivors of the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firemen who responded to the incident of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986 experienced the radiation syndrome.

The immediate symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Later, changes in the bone marrow can cause weight loss, loss of appetite, flu-like symptoms, infections, and hemorrhages.

Children exposed to radiation may be at greater risk than adults. Exposure to radiation in a pregnant baby is particularly disturbing because the human embryo is extremely sensitive to radiation.


Because of its use in medicine, almost everyone knows X-rays. X-rays are similar to gamma rays in the sense that they are photons of pure energy.

X-rays and gamma rays have the same basic properties but come from different parts of the atom.

X-rays are emitted by processes external to the nucleus, but gamma rays originate inside the nucleus. In general, they have less energy and, therefore, are less penetrating than gamma rays. X-rays can be produced naturally or by means of electrical machines.

Every day, literally thousands of X-ray machines are used in medicine.
Computed tomography, commonly known as CT or CT, uses special x-ray equipment to take detailed images of the bones and white tissues of the body.

In summary

Radiation is energy. It comes from unstable atoms subjected to radioactive decay or can be produced by machines.

The radiation moves from its source in the form of energy waves or energized particles. There are different forms of radiation with different properties and effects.

Electromagnetic radiations can be classified as: ionizing and non-ionizing.

The first ones have enough energy to generate ionization in the atoms present in the matter where it is scattered, an example of this is X-rays.

In the latter, they do not have enough energy to separate the bonds that hold the atoms of the medium where they spread. For example: the microwave, the radio or TV, etc.

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