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Before class begins, prepare five bags filled with about 100 beads each.
For each bag, count a specific number of "parent isotope" beads of one color and "daughter isotope" beads of another color.
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories.
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.
Through this simulation, they will gain an understanding of how scientists are able to use isotopes such as U-235 and Pb-207 to determine the age of ancient minerals. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique.
Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed.
Geologic time can be estimated by observing rock sequences and using fossils to correlate the sequences at various locations.
Current methods include using the known decay rates of radioactive isotopes present in rocks to measure the time since the rock was formed.
The unit of radioactivity is named after Henri Becquerel, who discovered it. A given isotope always takes the same amount of time for the count rate to decrease by a half.
The decay of any one nucleus cannot be predicted, but alarge group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate.
This predictability can be used to estimate the age of materials that contain radioactive isotopes.
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 Students will use half-life properties of isotopes to determine the age of different "rocks" and "fossils" made out of bags of beads.