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Recent developments in the measurement of radioactive gases in passive diffusion motivate the analysis of Brownian motion of decaying particles, a subject that has received little previous attention. This paper reports the derivation and solution of equations comparable to the Fokker-Planck and Langevin equations for one-dimensional diffusion and decay of unstable particles. In marked contrast to the case of stable particles, the two equations are not equivalent, but provide different information regarding the same stochastic process. The differences arise because Brownian motion with particle decay is not a continuous process. The discontinuity is readily apparent in the computer-simulated trajectories of the Langevin equation that incorporate both a Wiener process for displacement fluctuations and a Bernoulli process for random decay. This paper also reports the derivation of the mean time of first passage of the decaying particle to absorbing boundaries. Here, too, particle decay can lead to an outcome markedly different from that for stable particles. In particular, the first-passage time of the decaying particle is always finite, whereas the time for a stable particle to reach a single absorbing boundary is theoretically infinite due to the heavy tail of the inverse Gaussian density. The methodology developed in this paper should prove useful in the investigation of radioactive gases, aerosols of radioactive atoms, dust particles to which adhere radioactive ions, as well as diffusing gases and liquids of unstable molecules.


Published under Open Access terms as:

Silverman, M.P. (2017) Brownian Motion of Decaying Particles: Transition Probability, Computer Simulation, and First-Passage Times. Journal of Modern Physics, 8, 1809-1849.

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Journal of Modern Physics



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.