Understanding Radiation Shielding

The Universal Mattervault

Radiation shielding is so important.

We have always been exposed to natural radiation coming from the earth and outer space. This type of radiation, known as cosmic radiation or cosmic rays, usually isn’t emitted at dangerous levels. However, exposure to radioactive materials or radiography equipment causes serious health risks.


Radiation is categorized as alpha, beta, gamma/X-ray, and neutrons. Each type produces different levels of radiation that must be considered when designing your radiation shielding structure.


Alpha radiation consists of charged particles emitted from natural materials like uranium, thorium, and radium. Alpha radiation is also emitted from man-made elements like plutonium and americium. Naturally occurring alpha radiation materials are present in the earth’s crust and the floors and walls of our homes, schools, offices, smoke detectors, and even in the food we eat and drink. There are alpha radioactive gases in the air we breathe, and even our bodies contain naturally occurring radioactive elements.

Alpha radiation has a very limited ability to penetrate materials. This type of radiation can be blocked by a sheet of paper, skin, or even a few inches of air. External exposure to alpha radiation generally doesn’t pose a danger, but alpha particles can be potentially dangerous if inhaled or swallowed.


Beta radiation is lighter than alpha radiation and generally has a greater ability to penetrate materials. It can travel a few feet in the air and even penetrate skin. It is emitted from natural materials like strontium-90 and has been found effective in treating eye disease. Beta radiation particles can be blocked by a thin sheet of metal, plastic, or wood.


Gamma radiation and x-rays consist of higher energy that can travel a great distance at the speed of light and penetrate various materials. Gamma rays are often used in medical applications to treat cancer and diagnostic x-rays. Gamma rays are also used in industrial applications to find defects in materials that other metrology techniques can’t find. Since gamma radiation has a high penetration level, it’s crucial to block this radiation using concrete, lead, and sand. The thickness of these materials is determined by a physics study performed by a licensed physicist.


Neutron radiation consists of high energy that can travel a great distance at the speed of light and can penetrate deep into many materials. Neutrons are the only type of radiation discussed here that can make objects radioactive, called neutron activation. Neutrons are used to produce radioactive sources in medical, academic, and industrial applications. Neutrons are shielded using thick hydrogen-containing materials like concrete, water, and borated polyethylene sheets.


Any facility that uses radiation-producing equipment must construct special rooms designed to block, absorb, and contain radioactive particles to prevent exposure. These radiation shielding rooms are constructed of lead-lined drywall, concrete, sand, and other materials proven to block radiation. The level of shielding required varies by the equipment and radiation type, which is why a radiation physicist should determine your shielding needs.

Radiation shielding rooms are used in various types of medical and industrial settings. Hospitals and clinics use radiation shielding rooms for mammography and other medical imaging procedures and high-dose radiation therapy used to treat cancer. Other medical applications include laboratories and medical equipment testing facilities.

Radiography is also used in nondestructive testing (NDT), technique used by manufacturers to inspect, test, and evaluate parts and assemblies. Military and aerospace manufacturers often use NDT to test components used in aircraft, watercraft, and land vehicles. Nuclear power generation and storage facilities are yet another application, though not as common.

The team of engineers and physicists at Matter Fabs design and build radiation shielding rooms to meet a broad range of radiation protection specifications. We are best known for our MatterVault™, a modular, turnkey shielding vault that is quick to build and easy to relocate. This innovative radiation protection structure gives you the flexibility to construct your room anywhere and for nearly half the cost of a permanent shielding room.

Contact us today at (844) 216-2746 to learn more about how we can design and install a radiation-shielded area to fit your needs.