When this happens, potassium, which is emitting particles in its conversion to a more stable form, is called the parent isotope. The isotope that is created during the process here argon is called the daughter isotope. The particles emitted in the process are what we call radiation. It is now time to explore why geologists are so interested in these radioactive decay processes as a means of dating objects. But before we do, can you list some characteristics a good clock should have? Can you describe them in more detail? Now, try to link the clock characteristics you just listed to the characteristics of radioactive decay that appeal to geologists:.

This example might help clarify the processes and terms just introduced: Looking at the parent isotope potassium abbreviated as K that decays into the daughter isotope argon abbreviated as Ar , scientists measured the half-life time to be 1. This means that half of the K atoms existing today will have made the transformation to Ar at some point during the next 1.

Science cannot predict which particular K atom in this sample will decay and which will not during the next 1. It can predict what happens on average. It is like flipping a huge amount of coins: So, can radioactive isotopes be used as a clock? Can geologists say that once the amount of K isotopes in the sample has reduced to half its original amount, 1.

Yes — as long as they use a big enough sample so statistical fluctuations average out. You can probably see now that as the sample ages, fewer and fewer parent isotopes will be present in the rock, so the rock will be less and less radioactive. Figure 3 shows a graphical representation of this example. So, how do geologists use radioactive decay as clocks to measure the age of a sample? Using a technique called radiometric dating , geologists take a sample of the material and measure the number of parent and daughter isotopes present in the sample.

Adding these two values gives the original amount of parent isotopes in the sample. Geologists can then use Equation 1, referred to as the radioactive decay formula , to determine the age of a sample. Specifically, by dividing the number of parent isotopes currently left in the sample [Please enable JavaScript to view equation] by the original amount of parent isotopes in the sample [Please enable JavaScript to view equation] , the geologists calculate a ratio termed [Please enable JavaScript to view equation].

They can then use this ratio [Please enable JavaScript to view equation] in Equation 1 to calculate the time since formation of the sample [Please enable JavaScript to view equation] to determine the age of the sample.

Is this radioactive decay formula intimidating? If so, try not to worry: This science project will only use its graphical representation, known as the decay curve. Coming back to our example, Figure 4 shows the decay curve for the potassium K isotope.

## How Does Carbon Dating Work

Can you figure out that the half-life time of K is 1. How long before all of the K parent isotopes decay? Does this still seem a bit abstract? This geology science project will guide you through the process of radiometric dating, enabling you to explore and fill in the blanks. It explains how to create a model of radioactive decay using dice. The model will behave the same way as isotopes in nature in important ways. You will create a decay curve for your hypothetical rare isotope, and use it to estimate the time since formation of hypothetical samples created by a friend.

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In this part of the science project, you will make a model to explore radiometric dating. The model uses six-sided dice, where each die represents one isotope in a radioactive sample used for dating. You will roll the dice to represent one unit of time passing, during which the parent isotopes have a chance to decay into the daughter isotopes.

How much of a chance? Or, in other words, what is the probability of decay? You will put a sticker on one side of the dice and if a die lands with the sticker facing up, this will represent that isotope decaying into the daughter isotope.

If the sticker is not facing up, it means that the isotope has not decayed yet, so further rolls of the dice will decide when this parent isotope decays. You will collect the daughter isotopes in a separate bag so they can no longer decay and only use the remaining parent isotopes in the following roll. Table 1 lists the relation between model and real life. In this part of the science project, you will create a graph of the decay curve of your isotope and use your curve to determine the half-life time of your isotope.

Remember, the half-life time of an isotope is the time it takes for half of the initial amount of isotopes to decay. You will then compare the half-life time you obtained using your data to the predicted half-life time using probability.

### What is Radiocarbon Dating?

How close will your half-life time be to the calculated one? It this section, you will ask a volunteer partner to roll the six-sided dice, simulating the decay of isotopes in your sample just as you did to collect data for the decay curve. Your partner decides after how many rolls of the dice he or she would like to stop. Your partner will hand you over the bag of daughter isotopes and the pot of parent isotopes when they have finished. Your task is to use the sample bag with the daughter isotopes and pot with the parent isotopes and then estimate the number of times your partner rolled the dice or the elapsed time of your sample.

If radioactive decay processes intrigue you, the following two project ideas might grab your attention:.

Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating. What is Relative Dating? What is the Age of the Solar System? Absolute Time in Geology. What is Carbon Dating? Methods for Determining Past Climates. Introduction to Physical Geology: Intro to Natural Sciences.

Middle School Earth Science: Weather and Climate Science: UExcel Weather and Climate: Guns, Germs, and Steel Study Guide. Holt McDougal Introduction to Geography: Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other objects based on the fixed decay rate of radioactive isotopes.

## Radiometric Dating - Greatest Discoveries | Science

Radiometric Dating The aging process in human beings is easy to see. Radioactive Decay The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state. Half-Life So, what exactly is this thing called a half-life? Uranium-Lead Dating There are different methods of radiometric dating that will vary due to the type of material that is being dated. Potassium-Argon and Rubidium-Strontium Dating Uranium is not the only isotope that can be used to date rocks; we do see additional methods of radiometric dating based on the decay of different isotopes.

Radiocarbon Dating So, we see there are a number of different methods for dating rocks and other non-living things, but what if our sample is organic in nature? Try it risk-free No obligation, cancel anytime. Want to learn more?

### Radiometric Dating

Select a subject to preview related courses: Lesson Summary Let's review. Learning Outcomes As a result of watching this video, you might be able to: Compare radiometric dating, radioactive decay and half-life Understand that uranium-lead dating is one of the most reliable radiometric dating methods Relate the processes of potassium-argon and rubidium-strontium dating Determine how radiocarbon dating works and recognize why it is important.

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## Radiometric dating

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page Transferring credit to the school of your choice Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Browse Articles By Category Browse an area of study or degree level. You are viewing lesson Lesson 6 in chapter 2 of the course:.

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