Gamma radioactivity is composed of electromagnetic rays. It is distinguished from x-rays only by the fact that it comes from the nucleus. Most gamma rays are somewhat higher in energy than x-rays and therefore are very penetrating. It is the most useful type of radiation for medical purposes, but at the same time it is the most dangerous because of its ability to penetrate large thicknesses of material.
Other Radioactive Processes
Positron or positive beta decay: Positron emission is called beta decay because the characteristics of electron or positron decay are similar. They both show a characteristic energy spectrum because of the emission of a neutrino or antineutrino.
Internal conversion is the use of electromagnetic energy from the nucleus to expel an orbital electron from the atom.
Electron capture is one form of radioactivity. A parent nucleus may capture one of its orbital electrons and emit a neutrino. This is a process which competes with positron emission and has the same effect on the atomic number. Most commonly, it is a K-shell electron which is captured, and this is referred to as K-capture. A
typical example is
In the middle range of the periodic table, those isotopes which are lighter than the most stable isotopes tend to decay by electron capture, and those heavier decay by negative beta decay. An example of this pattern is seen with silver isotopes, with two stable isotopes plus one of lower mass which decays by electron capture and one of heavier mass which decays by beta emission.
Internal conversion is another electromagnetic process which can occur in the nucleus and which competes with gamma emission. Sometimes the multipole electric fields of the nucleus interact with orbital electrons with enough energy to eject them from the atom. This process is not the same as emitting a gamma ray which knocks an electron out of the atom. It is also not the same as beta decay, since the emitted electron was previously one of the orbital electrons, whereas the electron in beta decay is produced by the decay of a neutron.
An example used by Krane is that of 203Hg, which decays to 203Tl by beta emission, leaving the 203Tl in an electromagnetically excited state. It can proceed to the ground state by emitting a 279.190 keV gamma ray, or by internal conversion. In this case the internal conversion is more probable. Since the internal conversion process can interact with any of the orbital electrons, the result is a spectrum of internal conversion electrons which will be seen as superimposed upon the electron energy spectrum of the beta emission. The energy yield of this electromagnetic transition can be taken as 279.190 keV, so the ejected electrons will have that energy minus their binding energy in the 203Tl daughter atom.