44_halflife - Lesson 44: Half Life The half life of an...

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Lesson 44: Half Life The half life of an element is the time it will take half of the parent atoms to transmutate into something else (through alpha or beta decays, or another process). This amount of time varies from just 10 -22 s to 10 28 s … that's 10 21 years! The total number of atoms in a sample stays the same, it's just that some of the atoms have changed to different elements. Example 1 : The half life of C 6 14 is 5730 years. Explain what you would expect to happen over a long period of time. Imagine a sample of carbon that originally had 100 of these carbon-14 atoms. In reality we would need the sample to have many more atoms, since statistics are really only reliable for large numbers. During the first few hundred years or so we would notice that some of the carbon-14 atoms have transmutated into some other element. In fact, a lot of them have changed. Since we started with a lot of the carbon-14 atoms, there is the greatest chance of seeing quite a few change. It would be like throwing 100 quarters into the air; since there are so many, you've got a really good chance of seeing a 50-50 split between heads and tails when they hit the ground. By the time 5730 years have passed, we would expect to only have 50 carbon-14 atoms remaining. Remember, the half life is the time it takes for half of them to change. There are still the same total number of atoms, just not as many carbon-14 as we started with. Some people think that if we wait another 5730 years, all of the carbon-14 will be gone. .. nope! Remember, half life is the time it takes for half the atoms to decay. So, after the next 5730 years
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44_halflife - Lesson 44: Half Life The half life of an...

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