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RADIO ACTIVE DATING AND DETERMINING THE AGE OF ROCKS

Introduction:

You have probably heard the term "half-life" and know that it is related to the decay of radioactive elements.

Half-life is defined as; "The time required for half of any given amount of an unstable radioactive substance (Parent Atoms) to decay into another, stable substance (Daughter Atoms)".

Radioactive decay is a constant process where an unstable radioactive element breaks down to become a more stable element by releasing radioactive particles and radiation. In this investigation you will use 5 cent coins to simulate how unstable atoms radioactively decay and how rocks of different ages have different amounts of un-decayed (radioactive) and decayed (stable) elements.

Background Information & Discussion:

Testing of radioactive minerals in rocks is the best way to determine the absolute age of the rock.

Many elements exist in different forms. The atoms of the most stable forms have a balanced number of protons, neutrons and electrons. Other forms, known as isotopes, usually have different numbers of neutrons, and are unstable and radioactive, as they shed atomic particles in order to try to become stable. The particles they lose come together to form the daughter atoms of a different element.

In radiometric dating, different isotopes of elements found in rocks are used to predict the age of the igneous rocks. Potassium/Argon dating is good for rocks 100,000 years old since Potassium 40 has a half- life of 1.3 billion years! Uranium/Lead dating is used for the most ancient rock, since U-238 has a half-life of 4.47 billion years.

By comparing the percentage of the original, un-decayed element (parent atom) to the percentage of the new element (daughter atom), formed from the decay of the original isotope, the age of a rock can be calculated. The ratio of the two atom types is directly related to their age because when the rock was formed, it had all parent atoms and no daughter atoms.

Procedure:

You will be given a sample of a radioactive element known as 5centium, represented by 50, 5 cent coins. Radioactive 5centium decays into a more stable element called 1centium (1 cent coins).

Read the whole procedure before you start the investigation

  • 1. Place the 50, 5 cent coins in the cup. These 50 coins represent the number of radioactive, unstable, “un-decayed” 5centium atoms (the parent atoms) in your igneous rock when it was formed.

  • 2. Gently shake the cup. Shake the cup for about 7.13 seconds (this represents 713 million years passing). This represents time to decay or one half-life.

  • 3. Carefully pour the 5centium atoms (the 5 cent coins) onto a paper towel. Some will fall 'face' up and can be thought of as still unstable 5centium atoms. Some will fall 'face' down and are the stable, daughter atoms of a new element called 1centium. Remove all the stable 5centium atoms - those with the 'face' side down - and put them somewhere safe. So that you can identify them, replace in the cup these removed stable 5centium atoms (parent atoms) with same number of 1centium atoms (daughter atoms) - 1 cent coins.

The total number of 5 cent coins and 1 cent coins in your cup must be the same as the number of 5 cent coins you started with (50). Atoms are never lost they just decay from the radioactive atoms (5 cent coins) to more stable ones (flipped over coins).

  • 4. Count and record the number of radioactive “un-decayed” 5centium atoms (‘face’ side up) remaining. Record in the data table.

  • 5. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 until all the coins have “decayed” into 1centium (flipped ‘face’ side down) or 10 shakes of the cup-which ever happens first.

2BGU APES 2017/2018

Data Table:

 
   

Number of “un-

Number of

Time

decayed”

1centium

(# of

radioactive

atoms. The

shakes)

5centium atoms

stable

Half

remaining with the

“daughter”

Lives

“face” side up.

atoms.

“Parent” atoms.

0

50

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Data Analysis:

 
Data Table: Number of “un- Number of Time decayed” 1centium (# of radioactive atoms. The shakes)

[4 marks]

Use the graph grid on the next page to plot your data of parent and daughter atoms over time passed (millions of years).

2BGU APES 2017/2018

[6 marks]

2BGU APES 2017/2018

Questions:

  • 1. The 5 cent coins represent the .............................................................................................................

  • 2. The 1 cent coins represent the .............................................................................................................

  • 3. How much of a radioactive element becomes stable in a half-life?

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  • 4. What is the half-life of 5centium? (i.e., What number of shakes are necessary to reduce the radioactive members to one-half?)

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  • 5. If you started with 100, 5 cent coins, would the half-life change? Explain your answer.

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  • 6. Suppose you had 20 radioactive 5 cent coins. Using your graph to determine how many years had passed. ...............................................................................................................................................................

  • 7. After 2,000 million years had passed how many radioactive 5 cent coins would be left?

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  • 8. Looking at the table (below) of elements used in radioactive dating, identify which element the radioactive 5 cent coins represent.

 

Elements used in radioactive dating

Radioactive element

Half-life (years)

Dating range (years)

carbon-14

5,730

500-50,000

potassium-40

1.3 billion

50,000-4.6 billion

rubidium-87

47 billion

10 million-4.6 billion

thorium-232

14.1 billion

10 million-4.6 billion

uranium-235

713 million

10 million-4.6 billion

uranium-238

4.5 billion

10 million-4.6 billion

Answer ..................................................................................................................................................

  • 9. Can this radioactive element be used to determine the age of humanoid fossils? Why or why not? (Remember from the timeline, humanoids first appeared 5 million years ago). .................................................................................................................................

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2BGU APES 2017/2018

[10 marks]

 

Answers

1.

Parent Atoms

2.

Daughter Atoms

3.

50%, Each candy piece has two sides, therefore the chances of either side landing face up is 50%

4.

The half-life of 5centium in this activity was 10 seconds

5.

The half-life will not change. One can start with "any given amount".

6.

7.

2000/713=2.8 HL Look on graph.

8.

U-235

9.

No would need to use C-14

10. Yes, a small amount of the parent atom will remain. This concept is successive halves. No matter how far you multiply, a fraction of the whole will remain. In the case of C-14, eventually only a single atom will remain.

2BGU APES 2017/2018