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Describe how radioactive dating works

Radioactive elements are unstable; they breakdown spontaneously into more stable atoms over time, a process known as radioactive decay.

Radioactive decay occurs at a constant rate, specific to each radioactive isotope.

Mathematically, the half-life can be represented by an exponential function, a concept with which entry-level students may not have much experience and therefore may have little intuition about it.

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Any dead material incorporated with sedimentary deposits is a possible candidate for carbon-14 dating.Radiometric dating has been used to determine the ages of the Earth, Moon, meteorites, ages of fossils, including early man, timing of glaciations, ages of mineral deposits, recurrence rates of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the history of reversals of Earth's magnetic field, and many of other geological events and processes.Radioactivity and radioactive decay are spontaneous processes.Students often struggle with this concept; therefore, it should be stressed that it is impossible to know exactly when each of the radioactive elements in a rock will decay.Statistical probablity is the only thing we can know exactly.There are a number of ways that this can happen and when it does, the atom is forever changed.There is no going back – the process is irreversible. When we pour our popcorn kernels into a popcorn popper, the is no way to know which will pop first." Another way of explaining it is that when geologists talk about isotopes, they are talking about one element of differing masses.Isotopes of an element are atoms that all have the same atomic number (or number of protons in the nucleus) but have different atomic masses (hence different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus).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.If they can begin to comprehend that it is random and spontaneous, they end up feeling less nervous about the whole thing.


  1. How does the radiocarbon dating method work? The following article is primarily based on a discussion of radiocarbon dating found in The Biblical.

  2. The enrichment of bone 13 C also implies that excreted material is depleted in 13 C relative to the diet. Find out how carbon dating works and why carbon dating is so accurate. How Carbon-14 Dating Works. Carbonwhich is radioactive, is the isotope used in radiocarbon dating and radiolabeling.

  3. Radioactive decay occurs at a constant rate, specific to each radioactive isotope. Since the 1950s, geologists have used radioactive elements as natural "clocks" for determining numerical ages of certain types of rocks. Radiometric clocks

  4. Radioactive dating compares the amount of a radio isotope left in a rock with its decay product; the older the rock, the less original radioactive material remains, and the

  5. If 50% of the radioactive isotope is left one half life has passed. If only 25% of the radioactive isotope is left two half lives have passed. Divide the percentage in half again 12.5% left three half lives have passed. Again divide it in half 6.25% and four half lives have passed. For example Carbon 14 has a half life of 5,730 years.

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