Probing the microscopic worlds by ionizing radiation
Saion, Elias (2008) Probing the microscopic worlds by ionizing radiation.
A journey from the femto-scale world to the nano-scale world is full of mysteries and enlightening phenomena that inspire further scientific and philosophical debates. Among others, nuclear reactions, radioactivity, atomic structure and molecular bonds are the essence of microscopic worlds, for which accurate descriptions can only be through quantum physics. The fundamental aspect of nuclear radiation is its ability, in a single event, to transfer energy to the nucleus or to orbital electrons. Understanding such interactions and devising techniques that allow them to be manipulated and controlled remains one of the greatest challenges in research that underpins the development of new technologies. This lecture discusses the fundamental and social aspects of nuclear radiation and reviews the author's experiences in nuclear technologies in three disciplines of physics. For research in nuclear physics, neutron interactions with nuclei were exploited by irradiating marine sediment samples with thermal neutrons in the nuclear reactor. The neutron activation analysis technique was used to determine the concentration of anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic elements to monitor pollution levels. In atomic physics research, interactions of charged particles with tissue matters were calculated prior to the development of a microdosimeter that is able to measure the quantity and quality of radiation in a simulate tissue volume of nm dimensions. In molecular physics research, the desired chemical changes by gamma rays in molecules were used to synthesize functional materials including ionic exchange membranes by radiation grafting, conducting polymers and polymer gels by radiation-induced polymerization and metal nanoparticles by radiation reduction process. This journey has provided exciting prospects where ionizing radiation could be exploited in molecular engineering for peaceful use.
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