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Radioactive Decay Experiment Using TV Screen Dust

The dust wiped from the front of a television screen is radioactive.

Here's Why:

Every cubic meter of air contains a certain number of dust particles and radon atoms. Radon is radioactive and does not bond with other atoms. When Radon decays, it becomes an atom of polonium with a + charge. The polonium is attracted to any nearby particle of dust and will quickly attach itself. The polonium-dust still retains its + charge and is attracted to the negatively electrostatic charged surface of a TV screen. This is why TV screen dust always appears to be more radioactive than other dust.

The dust contains short-lived radon-222 decay products (polonium-218, lead-214, bismuth-214, and polonium-214). The radioactivity is due to these radioactive decay products attached to tiny dust particles.

Collecting Dust

Wipe the front of a TV screen with a Q-tip or tissue paper dampened with rubbing alcohol, collecting as much dust as possible. Bring the sample as close as possible to the GM tube of the Digital Geiger Counter. Using the graphing program you can record the radioactive decay.

The chart below shows the radioactive decay using a one hour time base.

Decay Graph

Chart of Radioactive Decay of TV Screen Dust

Partical Decay Sequence of Radon

Radon-222 alpha decay --> Polonium-218, half life 3.8 days

Polonium-218 alpha decay --> Lead-214 half life 3 minutes

Lead-214 beta decay --> Bismuth-214 half life 20 minutes

Bismuth-214 beta decay --> Polonium-214 half life 200 microseconds

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