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In nuclear physics, a decay product (also known as a daughter product, daughter isotope or daughter nuclide) is the remaining nuclide left over from radioactive decay. Radioactive decay often proceeds via a sequence of steps (decay chain). For example, 238U decays to 234Th which decays to 234mPa which decays, and so on, to 206Pb (which is stable):
In this example:
- 234Th, 234mPa,…,206Pb are the decay products of 238U.
- 234Th is the daughter of the parent 238U.
- 234mPa (234 metastable) is the granddaughter of 238U.
These might also be referred to as the daughter products of 238U.
Decay products are important in understanding radioactive decay and the management of radioactive waste.
In many cases members of the decay chain are far more radioactive than the original nuclide. Thus, although uranium is not dangerously radioactive when pure, some pieces of naturally-occurring pitchblende are quite dangerous owing to their radium content. Similarly, thorium gas mantles are very slightly radioactive when new, but become far more radioactive after only a few months of storage.
Although it cannot be predicted whether any given atom of a radioactive substance will decay at any given time, the decay products of a radioactive substance are extremely predictable. Because of this, decay products are important to scientists in many fields who need to know the quantity or type of the parent product. Such studies are done to measure pollution levels (in and around nuclear facilities) and for other matters.
- Glossary of Volume 7 (Depleted Uranium — authors: Naomi H. Harley, Ernest C. Foulkes, Lee H. Hilborne, Arlene Hudson, and C. Ross Anthony) of A review of the scientific literature as it pertains to gulf war illnesses.