Radioactive dating exercises

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Statistical probablity is the only thing we can know exactly.Often students get bogged down in the fact that they don't "understand" how and why radioactive elements decay and miss the whole point of this exercise.

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Showing this plot and asking them questions about the shape and changes in number of isotopes through time may help students to develop some intuition about half-life.

Although most introductory students may not be prepared for the equation for exponential decay, discussion of half-life and radioactive decay prepares entry-level students for the introduction of more mathematical discussion of exponential growth and decay in upper level classes.

Those that decay are called radioactive (or parent) isotopes; those that are generated by decay are called radiogenic (or daughter) isotopes.

The unit that we use to measure time is called half-life and it has to do with the time it takes for half of the radioactive isotopes to decay (see below).

The element itself is defined by the atomic number (i.e., the number of protons).

Only certain isotopes are radioactive and not all radioactive isotopes are appropriate for geological applications -- we have to choose wisely.

In order to determine the age of a geologic material, we must understand the concept of half-life. The definition is: the radioactive isotopes in a system.

The units of half-life are always time (seconds, minutes, years, etc.).

If we know the half-life of an isotope (and we can measure it with special equipment), we can use the number of radiogenic isotopes that have been generated in a rock since its formation to determine the age of formation.

Radiometric dating is the method of obtaining a rock's age by measuring the relative abundance of radioactive and radiogenic isotopes.


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