ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Alpha Radiation

Updated on May 25, 2013

Alpha radiation consists of alpha particles that are made up of two protons and two neutrons. The structure is identical to that of a helium-4 atom without it's electrons. The overall spin of the particle is zero. Alpha particles can be deflected by a magnetic field due to their charge. For the purposes of this article, we will only be looking at alpha particles produced from radioactive alpha decay (those formed from processes such as ternary fission are much higher in energy and therefore penetrating power). The majority of alpha particles have an energy of 3 to 7MeV. The table below summaries the particle's properties:

Ionising ability
Penetrating Ability
Stopped by...
Very high
Very low
A few centimetres of air
2e (+2)

Alpha decay

Alpha particles are produced in the alpha decay of a heavy atom. Unlike beta and gamma emission, alpha decay can only occur in atoms that have an atomic mass of 106u or over. The decay occurs because of repulsion between two protons - that will make up part of the alpha particle - and the rest of the protons in the atom's nucleus. When the alpha particle is emitted, due to the particle containing two protons, the atom's proton number is reduced by two and therefore, the atom becomes different element - as an atom's element is defined by the number of protons in its nucleus.

Dangers of alpha radiation

Alpha radiation is generally not considered to be too dangerous. The particles can be stopped by a few centimetres of air, by paper or by skin (once they have lost their energy, they take free electrons from their surroundings and become helium). Therefore, unless ingested or inhaled, alpha radiation poses little threat to humans. However, if the radiation does enter the body, for example, through radon gas, it becomes extremely dangerous as it is the most destructive ionising radiation. The chromosome damage is estimated to be twenty times that of a gamma or beta radiation. Polonium-210 is suggested to be part of the cancerous effects of smoking tobacco as it is often inhaled and ionises cells in the lungs.


The attribute of alpha radiation that is most commonly exploited is its ability to ionise. It is used in smoke detectors, anti-static devices and small scale generators.

Smoke detectors usually contain a small amount of americium-241, which is an alpha emitter. The americium is placed between two electrical plates. The alpha particles locally ionise the air. A small current is then passed between the plates, being transported between the plates in the ionised air. Smoke will reduce the amount of current that can flow between the plates and if there is sufficient obstruction, the current will drop to such a level that the alarm goes off.

Anti-static devices sometimes contain alpha radiation sources to ionise the air so that the static charge can more easily dissipate.

Alpha emitters are used in some eletrical generators used in objects such as pacemakers. This is because they create a significant amount of heat, which can be converted into electrical energy. They are also usually safe in close proximity to animal cells.

Thank you for reading his article, I hope it has helped you gain a better understanding of alpha radiation. If you have any comments or suggestions, please post them below in the comments section (does not require sign up).

Want to learn about the other types of radiation? Click here

Finally, if you've enjoyed this article, please like, rate or share this article. Want to know more? Check out 'Alpha Radiation'.

Check out my latest article: Essential books on the British Empire


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)