Gamma over (space edition).

Gamma radiation. Food and medical industry. Space science. And the many uses of gamma radiation.


gamma radiation is used in food irradiation, medical sterilization and space science1-Minute NomNom

Gamma radiation – which uses gamma rays (smallest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum) – is used in many fields, from food science, to sterilization, to space science.

Gamma radiation has been approved for use on poultryIt can be used in food irradiation to keep food such as poultry, vegetables and spices safe. The gamma radiation breaks the bonds in the DNA of any food-borne bacteria. When that happens, it is game over for the bacteria (read all about the science in the 1-Minute NomNom “Gamma over.“).

Surgical instruments and other medical devices can be sterilized by gamma radiationGamma radiation can also be used to sterilize medical devices. Sterilization “removes all germs, bacteria, and other living cells from medical devices, making them safe for use”. This ensures the devices do not carry germs and bacteria that may cause medical complications in a medical environment, such as infections during surgery.

There are however reservations about the use of gamma radiation. There remains significant negative public perception about its use for food safety. In the medical industry, one of its problems is that the reactions that generate gamma radiation cannot be stopped, raising fears of an uncontrollable radiation fallout if anything happens (watch the video above for about 10-20 seconds).

The use of gamma radiation in the food and medical industries may cause concern but there is at least one field where the use of gamma radiation has great potential.

gamma radiation can be used to explore planets' composition

That field is space science. Besides sterilizing the meat astronauts eat in space,  gamma radiation can also be used to explore the composition of planets. For example, they..

“… can measure gamma rays emitted by the nuclei of atoms on [a planet’s] surface that are struck by cosmic rays. When struck by cosmic rays, chemical elements in soils and rocks emit uniquely identifiable signatures of energy in the form of gamma rays. These data can help scientists look for geologically important elements such as hydrogen, magnesium, silicon, oxygen, iron, titanium, sodium, and calcium.” (Source: NASA)


gamma radiation “The gamma-ray spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter detects and maps… signatures [of energy… such as this map (below) showing hydrogen concentrations of Martian surface soils (source: NASA)



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photos: in order – depositphotos/speedfighter17;;bhofack2;sasel77Helen_FNASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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