New book: A Very Short Introduction to Radioactivity
Claudio Tuniz, former assistant director of ICTP, has published a book on the many and varied uses of radioactivity in scientific research.
In the decades since its discovery, radioactivity has transformed in the minds of the public from a inscrutable force to a frightening potential weapon. But, as discussed by Claudio Tuniz, former assistant director and currently consultant at ICTP, radioactivity is also an important scientific tool and its uses extend across many fields, from palaeontology to power generation to public health.
The book, A Very Short Introduction to Radioactivity, is part of a series of more than 300 books on academic subjects. Released 20 July, it explores all of the scientific uses for radioactivity.
For example, radioactivity is used to track the history of fossils and other ancient objects, locate massive sources of groundwater, and create genetic mutations for accelerating the development of new crop varieties. It has even been explored as a possible solution to the malaria epidemic - female mosquitoes can only breed once in their lifetimes, so if many male mosquitoes are rendered sterile by radioactivity and then released into the wild, numerous female mosquitoes would lose their only chance to reproduce. Radioactive dating can even track the time living cells were generated. A given cell’s radiocarbon level correlates with the how much radioactivity was in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time the cell was created. This atmospheric radioactivity differs dramatically from decade to decade over the last 60 years depending on how much the United States and Soviet Union were testing nuclear bombs in the atmosphere.
But radioactivity remains a major source of anxiety for many, and the book also covers the public’s complicated relationship with it. But, while it is dangerous at high doses, the fact is that we are constantly showered by radioactivity at levels that aren’t dangerous.