Radioactivity: Study 2


In short: The decay chain of every known radioactive nuclide as it changes mass (down) and charge (left-right). The end point’s size represents the final mass, and abundance.

Description: Similar to Study 1, the aim of this study is to take on radioactive data, and an established graph on the wall of every science lab in the world (seen here for example) and show it in a different, more beautiful,  way. This image shows the route by which every radioactive nuclide decays. As the nuclide travels down the image it loses mass. As it moves left-right it changes its identity by changing atomic number (i.e. charge). The color-pallet of the tracks is taken from the “blue willow” style of porcelain, and was chosen to refer back to the pre-CERN days when tracks of particles were detected by fogging film (here is an example – the first positron ever detected). The pattern has an isometric appearance due to the alpha decay which introduces a common step with a 4:2 ratio. However, despite this, what comes though is that the structure of the atom decays in a manner that is unique to its starting point. It would be nice to think that nature is more simplified or regularized than this. In study 1 the uncertainties in measurements provided a reason for the randomness, however here it’s purely the nature of what we’re looking at.

Point of interest: An interesting feature (for the non-particle physicists among us) is the branch group to the left, mid-way down, as they terminate in relatively rare and light nuclides and to end up where they have they must have comparatively lost a lot of protons in the process and seem separate from the main body. There appears to be a similar branch to the far-right further up the image.

Technical: All 4125 known nuclides and some isomeric states taken from the US Nuclear Data Program available at The overlaid path each nuclide takes is plotted as it decreases in atomic mass (down) and changes atomic number (left to right). Where appropriate, the end point is the stable isotope, where the final atomic mass is indicated by the size of the arc, and the depth of color the abundance. When the track ends in isomeric transfer or spontaneous fission no point exists. The color depths are linear, and in the case of the blue tracks blurred purely for effect.


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