If you took your favorite radioactive isotope and ionized it using a strong electric field (or any other ionization method), thereby stripping it of an electron, what would happen when it decayed? For simplicity, assume this process takes place in a vacuum.

Would the resulting material also be ionized? (Main Question)

If the isotope decayed via beta decay, is there any chance the produced electron could take the place of the stripped electron?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ An intriguing question, especially as (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_decay#Types_of_decay) hints that there is more than just $\alpha, \beta^+, \beta^-$-decay. Not only in terms of "what does it mean for a single, isolated atom", but even for radiopharmaceutical compounds like 18F-FDG (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fludeoxyglucose_(18F)), where the $\ce{^{18}F}$ turns into $\ce{^{18}O}$ ... $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Jul 7, 2017 at 20:37
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I don't really think so. Energy levels in the nucleus are really large compared to electronic energy levels. A beta electron would have a lot of energy, it would overcome all the electronic energy states and simply fly away. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2017 at 4:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PrittBalagopal - That is what I was thinking as well. If I'm not mistaken, the electrons produced through beta decay move at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Is that correct? Do you have any thoughts on the first question, though? Would the resulting material also be ionized? $\endgroup$
    – deke997
    Jul 8, 2017 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


There is no effect. Imagine you are demolishing a building with high explosives; does it matter whether the small window on the third floor was open or closed prior to the explosion? No, it doesn't. The building will go crashing down all the same.

I believe this is a correct metaphor of the relation between chemistry and radioactivity. Of course the product will be ionized. Quite probably, it will be multiply ionized via Auger events, and also will certainly ionize quite a few other atoms around. Whether it was ionized before is about as unimportant as that small window on the third floor.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.