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Day 67: Radioactive Polonium-210, not Thallium November 26, 2006

Posted by Admin in Astronomy, Chemistry, Science in the News.

Today was Day 1 of our new unit on Astronomy. We began by completing the first two columns of a KWL, followed by a discussion about the meaning of “Astronomy.” After reviewing the chemistry test grades, we then discussed the current investigation regarding the Russian ex-spy case.

Last week, the specific cause of the illness suffered by a former Russian spy was still being investigated. Since then, the story has deepened significantly, first with the victim’s death this past weekend, followed by reports that radioactive Polonium-210 was the likely culprit.

Hat tip: Ancora Imparo:

There are several ways for radioactive decay to occur. Polonium-210 undergoes alpha decay, emitting an alpha particle (two protons and two neutrons, essentially a helium-4 nucleus). As a result, 82 protons (and 124 neutrons) are left. This is lead-206, which is stable. Alpha particles are quite massive, so they cannot penetrate solid matter very well. Therefore, polonium-210 must be inside someone’s body to inflict much damage—so it must be ingested, inhaled, or administered through a wound, according to Roger Cox, director of the UK’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards. Mr. Cox believes that Mr. Litvinenko would have to ingest the polonium to account for the large amount found.

Additionally, Polonium-210 has a much longer half-life than Thallium, which should make it easier to trace, according to Deborah MacKenzie at the New Scientist (read the full article here):

“To poison someone, large amounts of polonium-210 are required and this would have to be manmade, perhaps from a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor,” said Dudley Goodhead at the UK’s MRC Radiation and Genome Stability Unit. “Polonium has a half-life of 138 days. This means that if that was the poison it will still be in the body and in the area – which makes it relatively easy to identify.”

As this story unfolds, it reads more and more like a hollywood blockbuster movie.

Download the current event article here.



1. Day 68: Constellations - Day 1 « THS Earth/Space Science - November 28, 2006

[…] Friday (12/01):  Current Events article write-up (see Day 67). […]

2. Day 73: Your Name in Stars! « THS Earth/Space Science - December 5, 2006

[…] After filling their own name in the grid, students connected many of the ’stars’ into a constellation.  Remember though that this is only half of the grade.  The other half of the grade will come from the 3-paragraph story that is written to explain the legend behind the constellation.  The entire project (constellation and story) is due in class on Friday.  Also due this week: your current event article write-up is due tomorrow (Wednesday): see the Day 67 discussion. […]

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