The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Radiation exists all around us and is in two forms: ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation is a form of radiation with less energy than ionizing radiation. Unlike ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation does not remove electrons from atoms or molecules of materials that include air, water, and living tissue.
What is ionizing radiation?
Ionizing radiation is a form of energy that acts by removing electrons from atoms and molecules of materials that include air, water, and living tissue. Ionizing radiation can travel unseen and pass through these materials. It is on the right side of the electromagnetic spectrum in the figure below.
A familiar example of ionizing radiation is that of x-rays, which can penetrate our body and reveal pictures of our bones. We say that x-rays are “ionizing,” meaning that they have the unique capability to remove electrons from atoms and molecules in the matter through which they pass. Ionizing activity can alter molecules within the cells of our body. That action may cause eventual harm (such as cancer). Intense exposures to ionizing radiation may produce skin or tissue damage.
Other examples of ionizing radiation include alpha, beta, and gamma rays from radioactive decay.