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Uses of Radioisotopes

Uses of Radioisotopes

Hazard Sign - RadioactiveIntroduction: Have you ever heard of carbon-14 dating? This kind of dating has enabled us to date fossils and human remains in forensic investigations, making for many advances in our understanding of the world and in the criminal justice system. However, carbon-14 dating is only one of many applications of what we call radioisotopes, or isotopes of elements that are unstable, leading to radioactivity as result. Although there is a perception that radioactivity is generally deadly, radioisotopes have also provided us with many important advances in science, medicine, and technology.

Aside from carbon-14 dating, radioisotopes have had important consequences for medicine. Iodine-131 has been used for treatment and detection in the system of thyroid disorders. This is because humans that lack iodine in their diet will generally have problems with their thyroid, sometimes leading to an enlarged neck. Yet another application of radioisotopes is the use of technetium-99, a product of the decay of molybdenum-99, to locate damaged heart cells and brain tumors in the body.

In addition to dating once-living organisms, radioisotopes can also be used for features of our natural landscape. For example, uranium-238, having a half-life of 4.5 billion years, can be used to date rock formations. Specifically, since uranium-238 decays to form lead-206, comparing the amounts of uranium-238 to lead-206 can be used to determine the actual age of a rock. These are only some of the many applications of radioisotopes in our modern-day world.


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