How does an atom change when it undergoes radioactive decay?

1 Answer
Mar 17, 2018

It changes the element.


In radioactive decay, an atom will lose protons, and therefore forms new elements.

In alpha decay, an alpha particle (a helium nucleus) is emitted from the radioactive atom, and the atom therefore loses #2# protons, and becomes a new element.

An example is:


This is alpha decay of lawrencium, an unstable synthetic element, where it decays into mendelevium-#251# and emits out an alpha particle.

In beta decay, an atom emits out an electron with an antineutrino, or a positron with a neutrino, and converts one of its neutrons into protons, or vice-versa. There are two types of beta decay: beta-plus and beta-minus, but I will only include a beta-minus equation here.

During beta-decay, the mass stays conserved, and only the element gets changed.

An example of beta-minus decay would be carbon-#14#.

The equation is: