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Penetration of Nuclear Gamma Radiation

Nuclear radiation is emitted from a material when the nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing radiation. The emitted radiation consists of gamma rays, alpha particles (He2+), beta particles (high energy electrons or positrons) and conversion electrons. From these components gamma rays are most dangerous for humans as they can easily penetrate the skin and cause severe damage to internal organs. Although gamma radiation is often an unwanted byproduct when producing nuclear power, it also has found use in medicine and food industry. In medicine gamma radiation is used for cancer treatment as it kills the cancer cells. In food industry the radiation is used to sterilize food as it kills bacteria and leaves the food unharmed. Gamma radiation can easily penetrate different materials and this makes radiation protection difficult. The penetration depends on the atomic number and therefore heavy metals such as Pb (lead) are used for shielding. In this experiment we use a geiger counter to measure the radiation emitted from a cobalt-60 isotobe and see how well we can block the radiation by using different materials such as wood, aluminum, steel, tungsten, pork cutlets and led casing.