Which of the following correctly
describes the most severe effect on living cells that can result from them absorbing
nuclear radiation? (A) Cells dissipate energy. (B) Cells are damaged. (C) Cells are killed.
When radiation is emitted by a
nucleus, it may be absorbed by the atoms in a cell that help make up a living
organism. A cell has various parts; we
haven’t drawn them here. But the point is that practically
nuclear radiation can transfer energy to a cell. The radiation may directly transfer
thermal energy and indirectly transfer chemical energy. If a cell is heated through thermal
energy, the cell may simply dissipate that energy through cooling with no negative
So we see then that option (A)
cells dissipating energy is one result of them absorbing nuclear radiation. But it’s a very minor one. Recall we’re looking to identify
the most severe effect on a living cell. A cell may also be damaged by
absorbing nuclear radiation; for example, it may heat up enough so that the cell no
longer functions properly. It’s still possible, though, for a
damaged cell to reproduce itself. Depending on the type of cell
damage sustained, this reproduction may not be accurate, but still in this case, the
cell remains alive.
Option (C), however, describes an
outcome where a cell has absorbed enough nuclear radiation that the energy
transferred to it results in cell death. A dead cell, of course, can’t
reproduce itself. So a cell being killed is the most
severe effect on that cell that can result from an absorbing nuclear radiation.