What is Radiation Biology?

This definition contains three important elements:                                          

"effects", "electromagnetic radiation" and "biological systems".


can be as diverse as the turning on and off of genes, cell killing, interference with cell growth and reproduction, mutation induction, loss of fertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and carcinogenesis (to name but a few).

Although these effects sound rather ominous (and with good reason), remember that radiation can also be used for good.  Many of us owe our continued good health – indeed, our very lives in some cases – to radiation; it is used both to diagnose medical conditions, and to treat potentially fatal diseases like cancer.  We also are the beneficiaries of many products and services made possible through the careful, controlled use of radioactive materials.


isn't just your garden variety cosmic, x- or γ-rays, electrons, alpha particles, neutrons or protons (these are all ionizing radiations).  Any type of radiant energy with particulate and/or wave-like properties that is capable of interacting with the medium through which it passes, qualifies as a form of electromagnetic radiation, including: ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared, microwaves, ultrasound, even radio waves.

Like it or not, there really is no way to hide from electromagnetic radiation.  All living things have evolved while bathed in naturally-occurring "background radiation", and in general, seem none the worse for it.  Given this, should we as individuals try to avoid any additional, "voluntary" radiation exposure, such as from medical or dental procedures?  Obviously, while this would be a personal decision, it should at least be an informed one; and the key to making an informed decision is to education yourself and understand the various risks and benefits as they apply to radiation exposure.  This is exactly where the field of radiation biology comes in!


include everything from atoms to biomolecules, to subcellular components, to cells, tissues, organs, organ systems and whole organisms...and ecosystems as well.

© Elaine M. Zeman, Ph.D. • 1999 - 2017