Principle for dating materials using radioactive isotopes

The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.

The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.

The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period.

Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms.

So, if you know the radioactive isotope found in a substance and the isotope's half-life, you can calculate the age of the substance. Well, a simple explanation is that it is the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value.

So, you might say that the 'full-life' of a radioactive isotope ends when it has given off all of its radiation and reaches a point of being non-radioactive.

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These are released as radioactive particles (there are many types).

The rate of decay (given the symbol λ) is the fraction of the 'parent' atoms that decay in unit time.

For geological purposes, this is taken as one year.

However, rocks and other objects in nature do not give off such obvious clues about how long they have been around.

So, we rely on radiometric dating to calculate their ages.

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