Alpha decay refers to a certain type of a radioactive in which an atomic nucleus, that is helium nucleus, emits an alpha particle, thus changing form from the original nucleus into another atomic nucleus that has a mass number that is reduced by four whereas the atomic number reduced by two. Alpha decay can also be viewed as radiation a type of radiation where alpha particles move from the nuclei of unstable atoms. The end result is that the atom becomes more stable than the original atom, thus, causing the element to transform into another element. The alpha particles are hazardous to human beings when they come in contact with human cells. However, the alpha particles have been used by scientists to the advantage of humankind. The following are some of the uses of alpha particles;
1. Seismic and Oceanographic devices
Seismic and Oceanographic devices which are also referred to as seismometer are machines or devices that help scientists and disaster management to foresee earthquakes. The current world that we live in is full of natural calamities ranging from mild and controllable disaster to disastrous occurrences that are not controllable at times. A good example of such uncontrollable disasters includes earthquakes, floods, and other calamities. Therefore, since these disasters are not controllable, there is a need for human beings to know when they will occur and be prepared for them. As a way of foreseeing and preparing for disaster s such as earthquakes, explosions, and volcanic eruptions, scientists came up with a seismometer. The device is designed so that it can respond to movements on the ground that may be caused by earthquakes. The earth movements are detected by this device in the event when the earthquake is about to occur thus preparing people of what may happen in the near future. The seismic and oceanographic devices cannot work without the alpha radiation because scientists use the radiations to power these devices.
2. Cancer Treatment
Alpha radiation is used in the hospital to treat various forms of cancer through a process called radiotherapy. The alpha radiation that leads to the emitting of alpha particles produces a significant amount of energy. Cancer treatment can be done using alpha or beta rays. However, the alpha rays are more appropriate in treating cancer because the alpha particles produce a high amount of energy and travel for a shorter distance as compared to beta rays. In order to perform radiotherapy, the human cells that are affected by the cancer virus are supposed to be killed. However, destroying the cancerous cells can lead to the destruction of normal cells. To avoid this scenario, doctors use alpha radiation because of the fact that it travels on a short path. When the alpha particles are administered onto the patient’s body, they are able to destroy the cells that are affected by cancer and avoid damage to the neighboring normal cells. However, these particles are supposed to be delivered in the specific human tissues containing cells that are affected by cancer. The radioactive waves are also used in the hospital and other treatment centers to sterilize the treating equipment such as surgical materials to kill the germs that may stick on that equipment before using them of another patient.
3. Spacecraft Power
A spacecraft is a device or satellite that is made so that it can fly and float in the space to provide the world with a variety of functions such as earth observation, communication among other functions. However, the spacecraft does not move from the surface of the earth to the surface on its own. Therefore, this means that there is a need for the power of energy that is used to propel the machines into space and maintain the same machine in the space. The spacecraft uses energy from different sources such as solar energy from the sun, battery energy, and energy from unstable atoms. The energy from unstable atoms is the alpha radiation. The scientists use the radioisotope power system to harvest power from unstable atoms. The system utilizes the difference in temperature between the heat emitted by the atoms and the cold in the space to produce electricity which powers the spacecraft. The power produced from the radioactive atoms lasts for a long period of time compared to other sources of power such as a battery.
4. Pacemaker Batteries
The use of modern technology in hospitals and around the world has led to scientists using alpha radiation as a source of energy to power pacemakers for the hearts of patients with critical conditions. The heart pacemakers are used for patients with heart problems that may lead to low blood pressure. Therefore the pacemakers help in pumping the blood around the patient’s body and keep them alive for as long as it is needed. The alpha radiation is used as a source of energy to these pacemakers because it is able to produce energy for a very long period of time, hence giving the pacemakers a very long lifespan.
5. Heating devices
Alpha radiation produces a lot of heat energy that is used in various heating devices. The heat is produced naturally from radioisotopes that have stayed on the surface of the earth for a long period of time. The radioactive materials produce a lot of heat during the decay process where the alpha radiation is converted into thermal energy due to the movement of the atoms in the element. The heat energy produced is used in various heating devices such as thermal generators.
6. Smoke Detectors
Some devices such as smoke detectors are very essential devices that every person should have at their houses. These devices save lives all over the world because they are able to detect smoke in the case when a person’s house catches fire. The devices that are in the best condition to function are able to give the people an early warning in case of a fire breakout thus making it easy for the one to escape. Together with the house alarm, these devices are very effective in giving early warnings when one’s house is on fire. However, for the device to function well, it must have some parts made of radioactive materials. The radioactive material in the device ionizes the air inside the device thus creating the flow of current in the device. In the event of a fire, the smoke enters the device thus disrupting the flow of current and therefore setting off the alarm.
7. Static Eliminator
Alpha radiation is also used in the elimination of static electric charges from devices and appliances where they are not needed. When a device is negatively charged, the positive charges that are found in the alpha particles are used to attract the negative charges that may cause damage in local static electricity. In the paper mill industry, the radiation waves are used to measure the thickness of the paper.