Isotopes for radiometric age dating

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Where the amounts of parent and daughter isotopes can be accurately measured, the ratio can be used to determine how old the rock is, as shown in the following activities.

Part 2a Activity — At any moment there is a small chance that each of the nuclei of U-235 will suddenly decay.

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This first time of shaking represents one half life, and all those pieces of candy that have the printed M facing up represent a change to the daughter isotope.In other words, during 704 million years, half the U-235 atoms that existed at the beginning of that time will decay to Pb-207. Many elements have some isotopes that are unstable, essentially because they have too many neutrons to be balanced by the number of protons in the nucleus.Each of these unstable isotopes has its own characteristic half life.Students should be able to understand the principles and have that as a background so that age determinations by paleontologists and geologists don't seem like black magic. Geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century studied rock layers and the fossils in them to determine relative age.William Smith was one of the most important scientists from this time who helped to develop knowledge of the succession of different fossils by studying their distribution through the sequence of sedimentary rocks in southern England.If the nucleus has not yet decayed, there is always that same, slight chance that it will change in the near future.

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