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Gamma Rays

Gamma Rays

Gamma Rays

Gamma radiation is a form of radioactive decay that can kill living cells and alter DNA. This is useful for sterilising equipment and radiotherapy, but can also be very dangerous.

In this lesson we will look at gamma rays. **** We use the greek letter γ for "gamma". On which end of the electromagnetic spectrum does gamma radiation lie?

Which of these electromagnetic waves has the highest energy?

Which statement correctly describes the properties of γ rays?

Gamma rays are generated by the decay of radioactive atoms and nuclear explosions

Gamma rays are also a type of ionising radiation.


What other type of radiation is ionising?

You can select multiple answers


Can you recall what ionising means?

Out of these options, what do you think gamma rays might be used for? Pick all the options you think are correct.

You can select multiple answers

Let's look more closely at some of the uses of gamma rays.


Sterilising food

Gamma rays can kill bacteria and mould in food which prolongs the food's shelf life.


Sterilising medical equipment

It is more useful to use gamma rays than for example using boiling water, because gamma radiation goes straight through the material and only damages the contaminating organisms that the rays directly target.


Cancer treatment

This process is called radiotherapy. We carefully direct a beam of gamma rays onto cancer cells which destroys them and helps control them.

The dangers of gamma rays are the same as the dangers of X-rays, but with a higher risk. Can you recall why X-rays (and gamma rays) are dangerous?

So gamma rays or γ rays are generated by the decay of radioactive atoms. They have the highest energy out of the EM spectrum. This allows them to cause damage and kill living cells which is useful in sterilising equipment and food, but makes them dangerous! If it damages the DNA in a human cell, the cell can mutate and the person might get cancer. However, we can also use gamma rays to treat cancer with radiotherapy.