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The traces of radioactive atoms in rock have allowed us to understand the nature and history of the Earth, in particular to date events in that history. Radioactive dating has been used for a variety of purposes, from determining the age of the first hominids to the dating of the Turin Shroud. The discovery of radioactivity has improved our survival kit, but also gave us the chance to reach a new level of awareness on the history of our species and its environmental impacts.
In this Very Short Introduction, Claudio Tuniz explains the nature of radioactivity and discuss its role in nature. Describing radioactivity in the stars and in the Earth, he also looks at its wide range of applications in biomedicine and in science, as well as the mechanisms of nuclear fission and fusion, and the harnessing of nuclear power.
1. Opening the nuclear Pandora's box
2. Unlimited energy?
3. Food and water
4. Radiation and radioactivity in medicine
5. Radioactive gadgets and gauges
6. Fear of radioactivity
7. Tracing the origin and evolution of the Earth
8. Tracing human origins and history
Posted December 5, 2012
There are very few concepts and discoveries in modern science that are as universally frightening than radioactivity. An invisible force that cannot be seen or felt, and can only be detected with the most sophisticated devices, radioactivity conjures an image that has hitherto been reserved almost exclusively for supernatural agents and maladies. It’s grip on popular imagination is so strong, that even in cases where the use of radioactivity could be beneficial and pose no risk (such as food irradiation), people are so afraid of it that it would be impossible to implement those
This book gives a short introduction of history, effects, and uses of radioactivity. It covers most of the early discoveries in chronological order, and it gives some interesting insights into the evolution of our understanding (and fear) of radioactivity. Radioactivity is actually a very natural phenomenon, and we are all bombarded with radioactive particles all the time. However, only with the rise of nuclear power and energy has radioactivity become a very important and substantial environmental risk. This book talks about all sources of radioactivity that we might be exposed to on a regular basis, and it puts in context what the “normal” doses of radioactivity are compared to all these other sources. It gives many examples of the uses of radioactivity, several of which were completely new to me.
The book is reasonably well written and informative, but its prose tends to be a bit bland. The narrative doesn’t have a very smooth flow, and it jumps form one topic to another often. There are a couple of other things that I don’t particularly like about the content and the presentation of the material. The book doesn’t really go into any detail explaining the physics of radioactivity. A book like this one would be a great opportunity to explain to the general audience some interesting Physics concepts, such as strong and weak nuclear forces, quantum tunneling, and nuclear structure. Unfortunately the book doesn’t cover any of that. Furthermore, the author seems to be very knowledgeable about the uses of radioactivity in geology and archeology. He gives a lot of background information on those fields, perhaps to the point that he goes off the tangent. These are all very fascinating topics in their own right, but they tend to distract rather than enhance the understanding of the uses of radioactivity.
This is not the best book on radioactivity, but it covers many of the topics pertaining to this subject reasonably well. However, if you are interested in the Physics of radioactivity you should definitely look for some other resource.
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Posted December 13, 2013