Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/812

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

presence of radium in a body which contains only 10-11 gram of radium. With care, 10-12 gram can just be detected. This emanation method has been employed with great success in measuring the quantity of radium in minerals and in rocks. A very simple method has been devised of determining the quantity of radium present when it is not less than 1/100 milligram. The tube containing the radium is placed some distance from an electroscope which is surrounded by a lead screen about 3 mms. thick. This cuts off the α and β rays and the effect in the electroscope is then due to the penetrating γ rays. By comparison of the rate of discharge with that of a standard preparation of radium at the same distance, the quantity of radium can at once be deduced, provided the radium is in equilibrium with its emanation. This is usually the case if the radium preparation is one month old. This method is simple and direct, and has the great advantage that the radium tube under test need not be opened, nor its contents weighed. We shall see later that the amount of radium in an old mineral is always proportional to the amount of uranium present. Rutherford and Boltwood (8) found that 3.4 parts of radium by weight are present in ten million parts of uranium. Consequently an old mineral containing 1000 kilos of uranium should contain 340 milligrams of pure radium.

In addition to radium and polonium, a number of other radioactive substances have been found in uranium minerals. With the exception of the radium emanation, none of these have yet been isolated in a pure state, although preparations of some of them have been obtained comparable in activity with radium itself. Debierne (9) found a radioactive substance which was separated from pitchblende with the rare earths and had chemical properties similar to those of thorium. This he called actinium. Giesel (10) independently noted the presence of a new radioactive substance which was usually separated with lanthanum and cerium from the minerals. It possessed the property of giving out a radioactive emanation or gas, the activity of which died away in a few seconds. For this reason he called it the emanating substance and afterwards emanium. Later work has shown that emanium is identical in chemical and radioactive properties with actinium, so that the former name will be retained.

We have already seen that Mme Curie gave the name polonium to a radioactive substance separated with bismuth. Later Marckwald found that a very radioactive substance was deposited from a solution of a radioactive mineral on a polished bismuth plate. The active matter was found to be deposited in the bismuth with tellurium, and he gave the name radiotellurium to this substance. In later work, he showed that the new substance could be chemically separated from tellurium. By treating the residues from 15 tons of Joachimsthal pitchblende, Marckwald (11) finally obtained 3 milligrams of intensely active material—far more active weight for weight than radium. It has been definitely settled that the active substance of Marckwald is identical with polonium. Both substances give out a type of easily absorbed α rays and both lose their activity at the same rate. The activity of polonium decays in a geometrical progression with the time and falls to half its initial value in 140 days. This law of decay, as we shall see, is characteristic of all radioactive products, although the period of decay is different in each case.

Mme Curie and Debierne (12) have described further experiments with polonium. The latter substance was extracted from several tons of pitchblende and purified until 2 milligrams of material were obtained containing about 1/10 milligram of pure polonium. From a knowledge of the relative periods of transformation of radium and polonium, it can be calculated that the amount of polonium in a radium mineral is 1/5000 of the amount of radium, while the activity of pure polonium measured by the α rays should be 5000 times greater than that of radium. As we have seen, polonium is rapidly transformed, and it is of great interest to determine the nature of the substance into which polonium changes. We shall see later that there is considerable evidence that polonium changes into lead.

Recently Boltwood (13) has separated another substance from uranium minerals which he has called “ ionium.” This substance is sometimes separated from the mineral with actinium and has chemical properties very similar to those of thorium. Preparations of ionium have been obtained several thousand times as active as uranium. Ionium emits α rays of short range and has a period of transformation probably much longer than that of radium. Ionium has a special interest inasmuch as it is the substance which changes directly into radium. A preparation of ionium initially free from radium grows radium at a rapid rate. Hofmann found that the lead separated from uranium minerals and named it radiolead. The active constituent in the lead is radium D, which changes into radium E and then into radium F (polonium). Both radium D and radium F are products of the transformation of radium. In addition to these radioactive substances mentioned above, a large number of other radioactive substances have been discovered. Most of these lose their activity in the course of a few hours or days. The properties of these substances and their position in the radioactive series will be discussed later.

Radiations from Radioactive Substances.—All the radioactive substances possess in common the property of emitting radiations which darken a photographic plate and cause a discharge of electrified bodies. Very active preparations of radium, actinium and polonium also possess the property of causing strong phosphorescence in some substances. Bodies which phosphoresce under X rays usually do so under the rays from radioactive matter. Barium platinocyanide, the mineral willemite (zinc silicate) and zinc sulphide are the best known examples.

There are in general three types of radiation emitted by the radioactive bodies, called the α, β and γ rays. Rutherford (2) in 1899 showed that the radiation from uranium was complex and consisted of (a) an easily absorbed radiation stopped by a sheet of paper or a few centimetres of air which he called the α rays and (b) a far more penetrating radiation capable of passing through several millimetres of aluminium, called the β rays. Later Villard found that radium emitted a very penetrating kind of radiation called the γ rays capable of passing before absorption through twenty centimetres of iron and several centimetres of lead.

Giesel and, later, Curie and Becquerel showed that the β rays of radium were deflected by a magnetic field. By the work of Becquerel and Kaufmann the β rays have been shown to consist of negatively charged particles projected with a velocity approaching that of light, and having the same small mass as the electrons set free in a vacuum tube. In fact the β rays are electrons spontaneously ejected from the radioactive matter at a speed on an average much greater than that observed in the electrons set free in a vacuum tube.

The very penetrating γ rays are not deflected in a magnetic or electric field and are believed to be a type of radiation similar to X rays. The γ rays are only observed in radioactive substances which emit β rays, and the penetrating power of the γ rays appears to be connected with the initial velocity of expulsion of the β rays. Two general theories have been advanced to account for the properties of these rays. On one view, the γ rays are to be regarded as electromagnetic pulses which have their origin in the expulsion of the β particle from the atom. On the other hand Bragg has collected evidence in support of the view that the γ rays are corpuscular and consist of uncharged particles or “ neutral doublets.” There is as yet no general consensus of opinion as to the true nature of the γ rays.

Rutherford (14) showed in 1903 that the α rays were deflected in a powerful magnetic or electric field. The amount of deflection is very small compared with the β rays under similar conditions. The direction of deflection in a magnetic field is opposite to that of the β rays, showing that the α rays consist of a stream of positively charged particles. A pencil of rays from a thick layer of radioactive matter is complex and consists of particles moving at varying velocities If, however,