How Are Beta Decay Equations Written?


Quick Answer

Writing a beta decay equations involves denoting the emission of a beta particle as the loss of an electron. Beta decay involves a neutron decaying into a proton and an electron emission (beta particle); the atomic number increases by one, but the mass number remains the same. The lost electron does not affect the electrons in the atom’s shell.

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Full Answer

Radioactive decay occurs when an alpha particle (Helium nuclei), beta particle (electron) or gamma ray (photon) is emitted from an atom’s nucleus. Alpha decay decreases the atomic number and the atomic mass because the nucleus loses two protons and two neutrons. Neutrons contain the mass of a proton and an electron but have no electric charge. When a neutron decays, it emits a negatively charged electron. The remaining mass combines with other protons in the nucleus, increasing its atomic number by one but retaining the total mass number.

Carbon 14 provides a good example of the decay process. Carbon 14 has six protons (atomic number) and a mass number of 14, so it has eight neutrons. When a Carbon 14 atom decays, a neutron breaks down, emits a beta particle, and becomes a proton, transforming the atom to nitrogen with seven protons. Since seven neutrons remain, the mass number does not change.

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