Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation is radiation that has high enough energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules. This removes a negative charge from the atom or molecule and thereby ionizes it.

Ionizing radiation consists of particles (ions, atoms or subatomic particles) moving at very high speed or high energy electromagnetic waves. Among the electromagnetic ways, gamma rays, x-rays, and high energy UV are considered ionizing. Lower energy UV, visible light, infrared, microwaves and radio waves are non-ionizing.

Ionizing radiation is harmful and potentially lethal to living beings but also has applications in healthcare and other industries. In high doses, ionizing radiation can cause tissue damage due to cells being damaged or killed. Ionizing radiation can also cause damage to the DNA. Long term, this can lead to cancer. Medical applications of ionizing radiation include radiotherapy in cancer treatment and medical imaging, such as scans and x-rays. Because ionizing radiation can destroy cells, gamma radiation is sometimes also used to sterilize food or medical equipment.