Sunday, July 17, 2011

How Radioactive Is A Banana?

I stumbled upon a number of VERY INTERESTING papers recently, which are in fact genuine scientific investigations into matters we often take for granted, for eg. the radiation level of bananas.
I've read about radioactive bananas(oh by the way, all bananas are radioactive) in my nuclear physics class, and yet I never got bothered by it.
Bananas are radioactive because they contain potassium-40, which is pretty unstable. But you don't have to worry about gulping down the yellowish-radioactive-fruit, because it takes a whopping 37,290,000,000 bananas to kill you, and still, it won't qualify you for the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.
The paper takes 450mg as the mean amount of potassium contained in a banana. Of this, only a small percentage of the total mass is represented by potassium-40, around 0.0117%(5.27mg). The half-life of this small fraction is around 1.26 billion years, making the decay relatively slow, and hence ensuring a continuous burst of energy throughout your life.

The amount of energy released, however, is minute, around 0.0000000000000931 J/s, roughly 0.000000000107 Gray. It takes around 1 Gray to cause radiation sickness in an adult, and it takes 4 times that to have a good chance of killing someone. The simple multiplication that ensues gives 37,290,000,000 bananas.
Assuming that a dude takes a banana a day, oh... he would have to pump his age up to 102 million years in order to acquire enough bananas to kill himself.


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