The electromagnetic spectrum can be defined as a range or spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and the various photon energies and wavelengths. It includes electromagnetic waves alongside frequencies that range from under one hertz to well over 1025 hertz. This can cover a distance of some thousands of kilometers to just a fraction of an atom’s nucleus.
The range of frequency can be divided into several different bands, and the electromagnetic waves that are contained in each band are given various names. These include infrared, radio waves, visible light, X-rays, microwaves, ultraviolet, and gamma rays.
Uses of Gamma Rays
As gamma rays pack an abundance of energy, they are classified as high-frequency electromagnetic radiation, and for this reason, they can pass through most kinds of materials. However, just a massive block of concrete or a lead block can stop the waves.
The nature of gamma rays also means that they can give physicists excellent information regarding some of the most energy-intensive events anywhere in the Universe. But an exciting side to these rays is that much of them are absorbed while in the planet’s atmosphere. That said, instruments placed on satellite missions or high-altitude balloons allow us to understand the place of gamma rays in the Universe.
The study of the Universe is not the only application of gamma rays. They are also used to modify the characteristics of semi-precious stones and other gems; an excellent example of this application is regarding the change of white topaz to blue topaz via the application of gamma rays. In the industrial sector, sensors also use gamma radiation for the mining and refining of soaps, food products, detergents, paper, and many others. The radiation is also used to assess the thicknesses, density, and levels of these products.
It is also the practice in the United States for gamma-ray detectors to be used as a component of the Container Security Initiative (also called CSI). These detectors are so good that they can do scanning of up to 30 containers in one hour.
It also has another application in biology where it is used to destroy living organisms, and this process is called irradiation. The application of this process involves the sterilization of various medical equipment to use chemicals or autoclaves and for the removal of bacteria that cause decay from foods alongside stopping sprouting of vegetables and fruits. Hence, whenever you get your fruits and vegetables and notice that they are still fresh, you have gamma rays to thank for keeping all fresh.
Another exciting application of gamma radiation is in the field of cancer treatment. It is interesting because even though gamma rays have been implicated as one of the causes of cancer, the same radiation is applied to treat cancers. This is possible because of same radiation can kill off cancers.
There is also a procedure known as gamma-knife surgery, and in this process, there are several concentrated beams of gamma rays that are focused on the growth to kill cancer cells. The beams are directed from several angles to ensure the radiation concentration is appropriately on the growth and that the least damage is done to the tissues.
Gamma radiation is also deployed in diagnosis in the several imaging techniques utilized in nuclear medicine, and this is possible via the application of various radioisotopes which release gamma rays. An illustration is with the PET scanning machines in which tagged sugar that emits positrons can identify the cancer cells due to a higher rate of metabolism.