The beta particle (electron) emitted is from the atomic nucleus and is not one of the electrons surrounding the nucleus. Emission of an electron does not change the mass number of the nuclide but does increase the number of its protons and decrease the number of its neutrons.
Consequently, the n:p ratio is decreased, and the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than did the parent nuclide.
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The radiation produced during radioactive decay is such that the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than the parent nuclide, so the location of a nuclide relative to the band of stability can serve as a guide to the kind of decay it will undergo (Figure 1). A nucleus of uranium-238 (the parent nuclide) undergoes α decay to form thorium-234 (the daughter nuclide).
The alpha particle removes two protons (green) and two neutrons (gray) from the uranium-238 nucleus.
In most cases, the energy emitted will be in the form of an X-ray.
Like positron emission, electron capture occurs for “proton-rich” nuclei that lie below the band of stability.
Electron capture has the same effect on the nucleus as does positron emission: The atomic number is decreased by one and the mass number does not change.
This increases the n:p ratio, and the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than did the parent nuclide.
Although the radioactive decay of a nucleus is too small to see with the naked eye, we can indirectly view radioactive decay in an environment called a cloud chamber.
Click here to learn about cloud chambers and to view an interesting Cloud Chamber Demonstration from the Jefferson Lab.
Figure 3 summarizes these types of decay, along with their equations and changes in atomic and mass numbers.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans use radiation to diagnose and track health conditions and monitor medical treatments by revealing how parts of a patient’s body function (Figure 4).
The loss of an inner shell electron leaves a vacancy that will be filled by one of the outer electrons.