4. Nuclear Chemistry

Biological Effects of Radiation Exposure

There is a large difference in the magnitude of the biological effects of nonionizing radiation (for example, light and microwaves) and ionizing radiation, emissions energetic enough to knock electrons out of molecules (for example, α and β particles, γ rays, X-rays, and high-energy ultraviolet radiation) (Figure 3.6).

A diagram has two vertical sections. The upper section has two right-facing, horizontal arrows labeled “Increasing energy, E” and “Increasing frequency, rho symbol,” respectively. A left-facing, horizontal arrow lies below the first two and is labeled “Increasing wavelength, lambda symbol.” Beginning on the left side of the diagram, a horizontal, sinusoidal line begins and moves across the diagram to the far right, becoming increasingly more compact. The lower section of the diagram has a double ended, horizontal arrow along its top, with the left end drawn in red and labeled “Non-ionizing” and the right end drawn in green and labeled “Ionizing.” Below this is a set of terms, read from left to right as “Broadcast and wireless radio,” “Microwave,” “Terahertz,” “Infrared,” “Visible light,” “Ultraviolet,” “X dash ray,” and “Gamma.” Four columns lie below this row of terms. The first contains the phrases “Non-thermal” and “Induces low currents” while the second reads “Thermal” and “Induces high currents, Heating.” The third contains the phrases “Optical” and “Excites electrons, Photo, dash, chemical effects” while the fourth reads “Broken bonds” and “Damages D N A.” A series of terms lie below these columns are read, from left to right, “Static field,” “Power line,” “A M radio,” “F M radio,” “Microwave oven,” “Heat lamp,” “Tanning booth” and “Medical x, dash rays.”
Damaging Effects of Ionizing Radiation. Lower frequency, lower-energy electromagnetic radiation is nonionizing, and higher frequency, higher-energy electromagnetic radiation is ionizing.

Energy absorbed from nonionizing radiation speeds up the movement of atoms and molecules, which is equivalent to heating the sample. Although biological systems are sensitive to heat (as we might know from touching a hot stove or spending a day at the beach in the sun), a large amount of nonionizing radiation is necessary before dangerous levels are reached. Ionizing radiation, however, may cause much more severe damage by breaking bonds or removing electrons in biological molecules, disrupting their structure and function (Figure 3.7).

Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation. Ionizing radiation can directly damage a biomolecule by ionizing it or breaking its bonds

Radiation can harm either the whole body (somatic damage) or eggs and sperm (genetic damage). Its effects are more pronounced in cells that reproduce rapidly, such as the stomach lining, hair follicles, bone marrow, and embryos. This is why patients undergoing radiation therapy often feel nauseous or sick to their stomach, lose hair, have bone aches, and so on, and why particular care must be taken when undergoing radiation therapy during pregnancy.

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