Positron emission

Positron emission

Positron emission is a type of beta decay, sometimes referred to as "beta plus" (β+). In beta plus decay, a proton is converted, via the weak force, to a neutron, a positron (also known as the "beta plus particle", the antimatter counterpart of an electron), and a neutrino.

Isotopes which undergo this decay and thereby emit positrons include carbon-11, potassium-40, nitrogen-13, oxygen-15, fluorine-18, and iodine-121. As an example, the following equation describes the beta plus decay of carbon-11 to boron-11, emitting a positron and a neutrino:


These isotopes are used in positron emission tomography, a technique used for medical imaging. Note that the energy emitted depends on the isotope that is decaying; the figure of 0.96 MeV applies only to the decay of carbon-11. Isotopes which increase in mass under the conversion of a proton to a neutron, or which decrease by less than m"e", do not spontaneously decay by positron emission.

Nuclei which decay by positron emission may also decay by electron capture. For low-energy decays, electron capture is energetically favored by 2m"e"c2 = 1.022 MeV, since the final state has an electron removed rather than a positron added. As the energy of the decay goes up, so does the branching ratio towards positron emission. However, if the energy difference is less than 2m"e"c2, then positron emission cannot occur and electron capture is the sole decay mode. Certain isotopes (for instance, SimpleNuclide|link|Beryllium|7) are stable in galactic cosmic rays, because the electrons are stripped away and the decay energy is too small for positron emission.

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