Radioactive decay

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Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles (ionizing radiation). The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decayswithout any interaction with another particle from outside the atom (i.e., without a nuclear reaction). Usually, radioactive decay happens due to a process confined to the nucleus of the unstableatom, but, on occasion (as with the different processes of electron capture and internal conversion), an inner electron of the radioactive atom is also necessary to the process.

Radioactive decay is astochastic (i.e., random) process at the level of single atoms, in that, according to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay.[1] However, given a large number ofidentical atoms (nuclides), the decay rate for the collection is predictable, via the Law of Large Numbers.

The decay, or loss of energy, results when an atom with one type of nucleus, called theparent radionuclide, transforms to an atom with a nucleus in a different state, or a different nucleus, either of which is named the daughter nuclide. Often the parent and daughter are different chemicalelements, and in such cases the decay process results in nuclear transmutation. In an example of this, a carbon-14 atom (the "parent") emits radiation (a beta particle, antineutrino, and a gamma ray)and transforms to a nitrogen-14 atom (the "daughter"). By contrast, there exist two types of radioactive decay processes (gamma decay and internal conversion decay) that do not result in transmutation,but only decrease the energy of an excited nucleus. This results in an atom of the same element as before but with a nucleus in a lower energy state. An example is the nuclear isomer technetium-99mdecaying, by the emission of a gamma ray, to an atom of technetium-99.

Nuclides produced as daughters are called radiogenic nuclides, whether they themselves are stable or not. A number of...
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