Scientists look at half-life decay rates of radioactive isotopes to estimate when a particular atom might decay. A useful application of half-lives is radioactive dating. This has to do with figuring out the age of ancient things. It might take a millisecond, or it might take a century.
Nuclear Chemistry: Half-Lives and Radioactive Dating - dummies
The following radioactive decay processes have proven particularly useful in radioactive dating for geologic processes:. Note that uranium and uranium give rise to two of the natural radioactive series , but rubidium and potassium do not give rise to series. They each stop with a single daughter product which is stable. Some of the decays which are useful for dating, with their half-lives and decay constants are:. The half-life is for the parent isotope and so includes both decays. Some decays with shorter half-lives are also useful. Of these, the 14 C is unique and used in carbon dating.
Unstable nuclei decay. However, some nuclides decay faster than others. For example, radium and polonium, discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie, decay faster than uranium. That means they have shorter lifetimes, producing a greater rate of decay. Here we will explore half-life and activity, the quantitative terms for lifetime and rate of decay.
Archaeologists use the exponential, radioactive decay of carbon 14 to estimate the death dates of organic material. The stable form of carbon is carbon 12 and the radioactive isotope carbon 14 decays over time into nitrogen 14 and other particles. Carbon is naturally in all living organisms and is replenished in the tissues by eating other organisms or by breathing air that contains carbon.