Unstable Isotopes

Unstable Isotopes

Author: Nathan Lampson

Our tutorial is designed to provide comprehension of basic scientific concepts such as isotypes.  An isotope is a variation of an element that contains the same number of protons and electrons, but has different numbers of neutrons. You will learn how to identify stable and unstable isotopes by examining their atomic structure, and discover the radioactivity of unstable isotopes.  

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Atoms have a fixed number of protons and electrons, however, atoms can have various amounts of neutrons.  When an atom has a number of neutrons that is uncommon it is called an isotope.

The isotopes that are not radioactive are called stable isotopes.  Isotopes that are unstable are called radioactive isotopes.  Radioactive isotopes emit radiation in various forms.

Smoke detectors use americium-241, a radioactive element, in order to detect smoke.  Americium-241 emits alpha particle radiation which is used to distinguish when smoke particles are present.

Carbon-14 is a unstable isotope used to find the age of carbon materials that are thousands of years old.