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The first is that atoms have always decayed at the same rate.
And this isn’t really an assumption as the decay rates have been tested in the laboratory for a hundred years or so, we have an example of a natural nuclear reactor where we can measure the various products and determine the decay rates (and the fine structure constant), and we can observe the past by looking deep into the past of the universe. The sigh isn’t for the effort of writing, it’s for the effort of finding all the references.
Knowing about half-lives is important because it enables you to determine when a sample of radioactive material is safe to handle.
The rule is that a sample is safe when its radioactivity has dropped below detection limits. So, if radioactive iodine-131 (which has a half-life of 8 days) is injected into the body to treat thyroid cancer, it’ll be “gone” in 10 half-lives, or 80 days.
Students often struggle with this concept; therefore, it should be stressed that it is impossible to know exactly when each of the radioactive elements in a rock will decay.
Statistical probablity is the only thing we can know exactly.
(Aside, my dad doesn’t know how old I am, he usually misses by about two years, giving him an error of almost 5%.) Not only, is this not a ‘false assumption’. Oh and here’s a link to the Table of Contents for this set of creationist misconceptions.
In this way, items of unknown age can be tested and an age determined to a reasonable degree of accuracy. More tomorrow where we explore the concept of isochron dating and how it neatly destroys most of the rest of these ‘issues’.
Plants are then eaten by animals, making C-14 a part of the cellular structure of all living things.
As long as an organism is alive, the amount of C-14 in its cellular structure remains constant.
A useful application of half-lives is radioactive dating.
This has to do with figuring out the age of ancient things.For nonliving substances, scientists use other isotopes, such as potassium-40.