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.
If you could watch a single atom of a radioactive isotope, U-238, for example, you wouldn’t be able to predict when that particular atom might decay.
This amount is often unknown and is one of the downfalls of conventional radiometric dating.
However, isochron dating bypasses this assumption, as explained below. The final condition is the number of atoms of parent and daughter isotopes remaining in the rock and can easily be measured in a lab.
For example, you can’t find the remaining amount of an isotope as 7.5 half-lives by finding the midpoint between 7 and 8 half-lives.
Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.
Carbon dating is used to determine the age of biological artifacts up to 50,000 years old.
This technique is widely used on recent artifacts, but educators and students alike should note that this technique will not work on older fossils (like those of the dinosaurs alleged to be millions of years old).