Gamma Radiation: Definition, Uses & Equation

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Heat Capacity: Definition & Equation

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What Is Gamma Radiation?
  • 1:15 Sources of Gamma Rays
  • 2:10 Effects of Gamma Radiation
  • 2:30 Uses of Gamma Radiation
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson you will learn what gamma radiation is. We will explore where it comes from, how we as humans make use of it, as well as its effect on the human body.

What Is Gamma Radiation?

Human eyes are amazing detectors of electromagnetic radiation. They can see a lot. But there's a lot more that our eyes can't detect. A rainbow shows you all the colors of visible light that can be seen by our eyes. But beyond the red end of the spectrum there are radio waves, microwaves, and infrared radiation, and beyond the violet end there are x-rays, ultraviolet radiation, and gamma rays. The full electromagnetic spectrum is shown here:

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Gamma radiation (otherwise known as gamma rays) is made up of waves that are just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum. They are high energy and can be dangerous, although contrary to the famous origin story, gamma rays won't turn you into the Hulk.

The name 'gamma rays' was coined by Ernest Rutherford. Previously, 'alpha rays' and 'beta rays' had been discovered through the study of radioactivity, named after the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. Paul Villard discovered gamma rays, but thought they were just another form of alpha or beta ray. Ernest Rutherford realized they were a new phenomenon and decided to continue the pattern, naming them gamma rays.

Sources of Gamma Rays

Gamma rays mainly come from two sources: radioactive materials and cosmic interactions. Radioactive materials are unstable and have a lot of excess energy. When they decay into simpler materials, they give off dangerous radiation of various types, one of which is gamma radiation.

When gamma rays are produced from radioactive materials, it is through a process called gamma decay. This is where jiggled-up radioactive atoms are able to release some of their high energy by emitting a gamma ray. The following equation describes that process:

Gamma Decay Equation

But gamma rays can also form in high energy cosmic interactions of charged particles in space, such as in active galactic nuclei at the center of galaxies. Most of these cosmic gamma rays are screened by Earth's atmosphere and don't make it far enough to be detected.

Gamma rays can also be produced after lightning strikes and randomly in the atmosphere during thunder storms.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account