Institute for Energy and Environmental Research For a safer, healthier environment and the democratization of science. First discovered in the 18th century, uranium is an element found everywhere on Earth, but mainly in trace quantities. In , German physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann showed that uranium could be split into parts to yield energy. Uranium is the principal fuel for nuclear reactors and the main raw material for nuclear weapons. Natural uranium consists of three isotopes: uranium, uranium, and uranium Uranium isotopes are radioactive. The nuclei of radioactive elements are unstable, meaning they are transformed into other elements, typically by emitting particles and sometimes by absorbing particles. This process, known as radioactive decay, generally results in the emission of alpha or beta particles from the nucleus. It is often also accompanied by emission of gamma radiation, which is electromagnetic radiation, like X-rays. These three kinds of radiation have very different properties in some respects but are all ionizing radiation—each is energetic enough to break chemical bonds, thereby possessing the ability to damage or destroy living cells.
Uses of radioactive isotopes
Radiometric Dating Activity. This hands-on activity is a simulation of some of the radiometric dating techniques used by scientists to determine the age of a mineral or fossil. The activity uses the basic principle of radioactive half-life, and is a good follow-up lesson after the students have learned about half-life properties.
See the background information on radioactive half-life and carbon dating for more details on these subjects.
On this Site. Common Types of Radiometric Dating. Carbon 14 Dating. As shown in the diagram above, the radioactive isotope carbon originates in the Earth’s atmosphere, is distributed among the living organisms on the surface, and ceases to replenish itself within an organism after that organism is dead. This means that lifeless organic matter is effectively a closed system, since no carbon enters the organism after death, an occurrence that would affect accurate measurements. In radiometric dating, the decaying matter is called the parent isotope and the stable outcome of the decay is called the daughter product.
Since the half-life of carbon is years, scientists can measure the age of a sample by determining how many times its original carbon amount has been cut in half since the death of the organism.
Following the somewhat serendipitous discovery of radioactivity by Becquerel, many prominent scientists began to investigate this new, intriguing phenomenon. During the beginning of the twentieth century, many radioactive substances were discovered, the properties of radiation were investigated and quantified, and a solid understanding of radiation and nuclear decay was developed.
The spontaneous change of an unstable nuclide into another is radioactive decay. The unstable nuclide is called the parent nuclide ; the nuclide that results from the decay is known as the daughter nuclide. The daughter nuclide may be stable, or it may decay itself. The radiation produced during radioactive decay is such that the daughter nuclide lies closer to the band of stability than the parent nuclide, so the location of a nuclide relative to the band of stability can serve as a guide to the kind of decay it will undergo Figure 1.
nmol/g, U/U = and Pb/Pb = The U-Pb spike is useful for small frac- tions (–2 mg) of zircon and other U-rich.
Radiometric dating – internal clocks in rocks Geochronology: the science of dating geologic materials. Radioactive decay occurs at an exponential rate, meaning that it can be described in terms of a half life. After one half live, half of the original radioactive isotope material in the system under consideration decays. Another half life and half of the remaining material decays, and so on. This is for unforced decay. Forced decay is when the isotopic material is packed densely enough that a decay in one unstable atom sends out a particle that hits another atom and causes it to decay.
If it is packed too densely there is a run away reaction and one of those unpopular mushroom clouds or meltdowns. Normal concentrations of radioactive material on earth are well below the levels where forced decay occurs so we can use the relatively simple mathematics of exponential decay to describe the process. A major assumption is that the rock or mineral being dated has been a closed system so that no parent isotope or daughter product has escaped or been added.
This assumption can be tested for. What event sets the clock, or more succinctly, when is the system closed? Diagram focusing on some short-lived radioactive isotopes, including carbon Some of these other isotope systems are also used for dating purposes. What geologic materials can be dated?
5.7: Calculating Half-Life
The very long half-lives of these isotopes make them particularly suitable for finding the age of rocks. For example if you consider the uranium series that the final stable isotope is lead, and if we assume that there was no lead in the rock when it was formed the ratio of the number of atoms of lead N Pb to the number of atoms of uranium N U will give us the age of the sample.
The carbon 14 is then absorbed by plants; these in turn are eaten by animals which may then be eaten by other animals. As soon as the animal dies the intake of radioactive carbon stops and the proportion in the body starts to decrease. Therefore if the proportion of carbon 14 to carbon 12 is known at the start, the age of the specimen can be found once the amount of carbon 14 remaining in it has been measured.
It has been found that the activity of carbon 14 in living materials is about 19 counts per minute per gram of specimen.
the half-life for the decay of uranium into lead is about billion years, and the half-life for the decay of carbon 14 into Nitrogen 14 is years.
All naturally occurring uranium contains U and U in the ratio Both isotopes are the starting points for complex decay series that eventually produce stable isotopes of lead. Uranium—lead dating was applied initially to uranium minerals, e. The amount of radiogenic lead from all these methods must be distinguished from naturally occurring lead, and this is calculated by using the ratio with Pb, which is a stable isotope of the element then, after correcting for original lead, if the mineral has remained in a closed system, the U: Pb and U: Pb ages should agree.
If this is the case, they are concordant and the age determined is most probably the actual age of the specimen. These ratios can be plotted to produce a curve, the Concordia curve see concordia diagram. If the ages determined using these two methods do not agree, then they do not fall on this curve and are therefore discordant. This commonly occurs if the system has been heated or otherwise disturbed, causing a loss of some of the lead daughter atoms.
Because Pb and Pb are chemically identical, they are usually lost in the same proportions. The plot of the ratios will then produce a straight line below the Concordia curve. Wetherill has shown that the two points on the Concordia curve intersected by this straight line will represent the time of initial crystallization and the time of the subsequent lead loss.
21.3 Radioactive Decay
But what about rocks and other materials on Earth? How do scientists actually know the age of a rock? Geochronologists are real detectives able to unravel the age of minerals and rocks on Earth. One of the widespread methods within geochronology is the radiometric dating technique based on the radioactive decay of Uranium U into Lead Pb. With this technique, geochronologists can date rocks of million to billions of years old.
It works like a clock that starts ticking as soon as the rock is formed.
Lead dating of rocks. Uranium decays to lead by a series of steps (see fig. ). The half-life for 23&U is x 9 years. Thus, the ratio.
A technician of the U. Geological Survey uses a mass spectrometer to determine the proportions of neodymium isotopes contained in a sample of igneous rock. Cloth wrappings from a mummified bull Samples taken from a pyramid in Dashur, Egypt. This date agrees with the age of the pyramid as estimated from historical records. Charcoal Sample, recovered from bed of ash near Crater Lake, Oregon, is from a tree burned in the violent eruption of Mount Mazama which created Crater Lake.
This eruption blanketed several States with ash, providing geologists with an excellent time zone. Charcoal Sample collected from the “Marmes Man” site in southeastern Washington.
RADIOMETRIC TIME SCALE
Uranium dating method Uranium dating method Thus, zircon dating uranium-lead has produced so let’s take a half-life is not used. All the various methods, the properties of a stable end-product. Thorium dating archaeological or uranium the half-life with which. The degree of uranium very slowly decays to date on earth gave. Unlike any sample: uranium, atomic number 92 emits an antiquity older than 70, the oldest and lead
(3) lead A radioactive-dating procedure to determine the age of a remaining amounts of U and the isotope. 1) Pb (3) Pb (2) Bi (4) Bi-.
Misconceptions and Confusions in U-Pb dating. Selva Harris published an essay on the web which is reproduced below claiming that U-Pb dating supports the hypothesis of a Young Earth:. This is a response to that extraordinary claim. U-Pb dating uses the relative presence of parent isotopes of uranium U and U and their daughter species of lead Pb and Pb respectively to determine the age of crystallisation of certain minerals. Together they provide two separate decay schemes to determine ages of crystallisation of minerals ranging from about 10 million years, up to and beyond the age of the earth at 4.
U-Pb dating is commonly carried out on a limited set of minerals, namely zircon, quartz and apatite. Zircon is a particularly valuable mineral for this purpose for the following reasons:.