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How Was Radon Discovered?

  • Who discovered radon?

The German chemist Friedrich E. Dorn discovered radon-222 in 1900, and called it radium emanation. However, a scarcer isotope, radon-220, was actually observed first, in 1899, by British scientists R.B. Owens and Ernest Rutherford. The medical community nationwide became aware of radon in 1984 That year a nuclear plant worker in Pennsylvania discovered radioactivity on his clothing while exiting his place of work through the radiation detectors. The source of the radiation was determined to be radon decay products on his clothing originating from his home.

  • Where does radon come from?

Radon-222 is the decay product of radium-226. Radon-222 and its parent, radium-226, are part of the long decay chain for uranium-238. Since uranium is essentially ubiquitous in the earth's crust, radium-226 and radon-222 are present in almost all rock, soil, and water.

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Figure 188: Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

 

  • What are the properties of radon?

Radon is a noble gas, which means it is essentially inert, and does not combine with other chemicals. Radon is a heavy gas, which accounts for its tendency to collect in basements. It has no color, odor, or taste. Radon-222 is produced by the decay of radium, has a half-life of 3.8 days, and emits an alpha particle as it decays to polonium-218, and eventually to stable lead. Radon-220, is the decay product of thorium - it is sometimes called thoron, has a half-life of 54.5 seconds and emits an alpha particle in its decay to polonium-216.

  • Does radon have any practical uses?

Radon has little practical use. Some medical treatments have employed radon in small sealed glass tubes, called seeds, that are specially manufactured to contain the exact amount of radioactivity needed for the application.

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