Radon

In this paper I will discuss the element called Radon. I will explain how and when this element was discovered, its' physical characteristics, the natural environment of the element and the abundance in which it occurs. In addition, I will describe why Radon is important to humans, and other interesting facts related to this element.


Radon has the symbol Rn. Its atomic number is 86 and its atomic weight is 222. The shell configuration is 2,8,18,32,18,8. Radon's most stable isotope is Rn 222 with a half-life of 3.82 days. An isotope is one of two or more atoms that have the same atomic number, but have different atomic weights and mass numbers (The America Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, 1992). The nuclei of isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons but they have different numbers of neutrons (The America Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, 1992). The isotopes of a given element have identical chemical properties but varying physical properties (The America Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, 1992). A radioisotope is a radioactive isotope (The America Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, 1992). A radioisotope is a naturally or artificially created isotope having an unstable nucleus that decays, letting off alpha, beta, gamma rays until stability is reached (The America Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, 1992). Radon's melting point is -71C. The boiling point is -61.8C. Radon is the densest gas known (Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995).

Radon is a heavy, colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-flammable gas (therefore it cannot be detected with the human senses) produced by the radioactive decay of radium, which is itself a product of uranium.
Radioactive means the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves through space or through a material medium; the term also applies to the radiated energy itself. The term includes electromagnetic, acoustic, and particle radiation, and all forms of ionizing radiation. According to quantum mechanics, electromagnetic radiation may be viewed as made up of photons. Acoustic radiation is propagated as sound waves. Examples of particle radiation are alpha and beta rays in radioactive, and cosmic rays. (American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language, Third edition, 1992)

It is chemically inert and does not combine with other chemicals or elements. Traces of radon are normally found in the atmosphere near the ground as the result of seepage from rocks and soil. On a worldwide average, approximately 6 atoms of radon emerge from every square inch of soil each second (Dunford, 1991). Radon is also moderately soluble in water and, therefore, can be absorbed by water flowing through rock or sand. Its solubility depends on the water temperature; the colder the water, the greater radon's solubility.
Ernest Rutherford discovered radon in 1899. Rutherford is considered the father of nuclear physics. Indeed, it could be said that Rutherford invented the very language to describe the theoretical concepts of the atom and the phenomenon of radioactivity. Particles named and characterized by him include the alpha particle, beta particle and proton. Even the neutron, discovered by James Chadwick, owes its name to Rutherford. The exponential equation used to calculate the decay of radioactive substances was first employed for that purpose by Rutherford and he was the first to elucidate the related concepts of the half-life and decay constant. With Frederick Soddy at McGill University, Rutherford showed that elements such as uranium and thorium became different elements (i.e. transmuted) through the process of radioactive decay. At the time, such an incredible idea was not to be mentioned in polite company: it belonged to the realm of alchemy, not science. For this work, Rutherford won the 1908 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
In 1909, now at the University of Manchester, Rutherford was bombarding a thin gold foil with alpha particles when he noticed that although almost all of them went through the gold, one in eight thousand would "bounce" (i.e. scatter) back. The amazed Rutherford commented that it was "as if you fired a 15-inch naval shell at a piece of tissue paper and the shell came right back and hit you." From this simple observation, Rutherford concluded that the atom's mass must be concentrated in a small positively charged nucleus while the electrons inhabit the farthest