Saturday, February 20, 2010

IOT Radiation: Gamma and X-rays

In Our Time, Radiation is a superb 50 minute review of 19th century physics -- with bits before and beyond. This is the physics that brought us much of the modern world - though for GPS we needed Einstein.

Listening again to how physics became ether-free I couldn't help but recall the old McCluhan meme --"The medium is the message". Deep, man.

I also finally learned the relationship between Gamma Rays (Hulk) and X-Rays (Superman). In retrospect, I've been forever confused by the alpha, beta, gamma particle nomenclature.

For the few who might be as unknowingly confused as I've been all my life, X-rays are forms of light (EM radiation) associated with electron transitions. Gamma rays are forms of light (EM radiation) associated with processes in the atomic nucleus. (A wikipedia article on Gamma Rays suggests my confusion arose in part due to the redefinition of Gamma and X-rays over the past thirty years.)

Alpha and beta "radiation", on the other hand, isn't electromagnetic (light) radiation -- it's particle emission. The confusion between alpha, beta and gamma "radiation" arose when they were discovered and named together.

Of course I'm sure I've got something wrong in this summary, but it does feel like progress.
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