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Physics: Atomic Structure 1


In this topic, pupils will learn about the three main types of ionising radiation, how we measure the decay of radioactive isotopes, the health impacts of these and how nuclear fusion and fission will impact the future of our planet.

The main SMSC/Personal Development content of this topic includes: PD14 – Knowledge of, and respect for, different people’s faiths, feelings and values.

PD15 – Sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them. The main UN Rights of a Child covered are No. 12 – Respect for children’s views and No. 13 – Sharing thoughts freely

Example Key Words

Ionising Radiation

Radiation emitted from an unstable isotope, that has the ability to ionise other atoms. Usually in the form of alpha, beta, gamma or a neutron.


Exposing objects to radiation is called irradiation. The term applies to all types of radiation including radiation from the nuclei of atoms.


Contamination occurs if an object has a radioactive material introduced into it. An apple exposed to the radiation from cobalt-60 is irradiated but an apple with cobalt-60 injected into it is contaminated.

Half Life

The time taken for the radioactivity emitted by a sample to halve.

Count Rate

Count rate is the radiation detected (counted) from a sample. It is not always the same as the radiation emitted by the sample.