Half life definition
Half-life is defined as the amount of time it takes a given quantity to decrease to half of its initial value. The term is most commonly used in relation to atoms undergoing radioactive decay, but can be used to describe other types of decay, whether exponential or not. One of the most well-known applications of half-life is carbon dating.
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The half-life of carbon is approximately 5, years, and it can be reliably used to measure dates up to around 50, years ago. The process of carbon dating was developed by William Libby, and is based on the fact that carbon is constantly being made in the atmosphere.
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- Calculates the dating in the past from the ratio of Uranium 235 in natural uranium..
Each radioactive material contains stable and unstable nuclei. Stable ones don't change, but the unstable undergo radioactive decay, emitting alpha particles, beta particles or gamma rays.
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Stable nuclei are created in this way. Half life is defined as the time required for half of unstable nuclei to undergo this decay.
Each substance has a different half life. For example, carbon has a half life of only 19 seconds, making it impossible for this isotope to be encountered in nature.
Half-life and carbon dating
Uranium, on the other hand, has the half life as high as years. This term can also be used more generally to describe any kind of exponential decay - for example, the biological half-life of metabolites. Number of unstable nuclei remaining after time t can be determined according to this equation:. The three parameters characterizing a substance's radioactivity are related in the following way:.
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