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Electron capture has the same effect on the nucleus as does positron emission: The atomic number is decreased by one and the mass number does not change.This increases the n:p ratio, and the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than did the parent nuclide.Cobalt-60 emits γ radiation and is used in many applications including cancer treatment: Positron emission is observed for nuclides in which the n:p ratio is low. Positron decay is the conversion of a proton into a neutron with the emission of a positron.The n:p ratio increases, and the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than did the parent nuclide.

Iodine-131 is an example of a nuclide that undergoes β decay: Beta decay, which can be thought of as the conversion of a neutron into a proton and a β particle, is observed in nuclides with a large n:p ratio.The radiation produced during radioactive decay is such that the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than the parent nuclide, so the location of a nuclide relative to the band of stability can serve as a guide to the kind of decay it will undergo (Figure 1). A nucleus of uranium-238 (the parent nuclide) undergoes α decay to form thorium-234 (the daughter nuclide).The alpha particle removes two protons (green) and two neutrons (gray) from the uranium-238 nucleus.To perform a PET scan, a positron-emitting radioisotope is produced in a cyclotron and then attached to a substance that is used by the part of the body being investigated.This “tagged” compound, or radiotracer, is then put into the patient (injected via IV or breathed in as a gas), and how it is used by the tissue reveals how that organ or other area of the body functions. A PET scanner (a) uses radiation to provide an image of how part of a patient’s body functions.

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