Radiation may bring to mind the superheroes and monsters of comic books and movies, but radiation is very real and all around us! In fact, you are currently being bombarded by radiation. It might be coming from the sun, various electronic devices you own, or even the food in your kitchen. If you have ever eaten a banana, you have eaten a radioactive material. The good news is that the vast majority of radiation you are exposed to is relatively harmless.
Whether or not radiation can harm you depends on the type of radiation, the dosage you come in contact with, and the length of the exposure. Here we'll go over the different types of radiation, their causes, uses to us, and dangers. Before we get started, you need to know what exactly radiation is in general. Radiation can be defined as the transmission of energy from a body in the form of waves or particles. This can encompass anything from dangerous radiation created by a nuclear power plant to the harmless light created by a flashlight.
Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation
Before we go any further, let's cover some basic terms. Ionization is the process in which an atom either loses or gains an electron. Since electrons are negatively charged, this process will take an atom, which normally has no charge, and give it either a positive or negative charge depending on whether it lost or gained electrons. An atom that has a charge to it is called an ion.
So the difference between ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation is that ionizing radiation has enough energy to strip electrons off of atoms, and non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to strip electrons off of atoms. One of the easiest ways to visualize the difference between these two is to look at the frequency spectrum for light. As the frequency goes up, so does energy, so we can see the energy cut off for light where it goes from non-ionizing to ionizing radiation is within the ultraviolet light spectrum.