Radioisotopes used in radiometric dating

Carbon dating is used to determine the age of biological artifacts up to 50, years old. This technique is widely used on recent artifacts, but educators and students alike should note that this technique will not work on older fossils like those of the dinosaurs alleged to be millions of years old. This technique is not restricted to bones; it can also be used on cloth, wood and plant fibers. Carbon dating has been used successfully on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Minoan ruins and tombs of the pharaohs among other things.

Uses of Radioactive Isotopes

Radioactive isotopes have a variety of applications. Generally, however, they are useful because either we can detect their radioactivity or we can use the energy they release. Radioactive isotopes are effective tracers because their radioactivity is easy to detect. For instance, leaks in underground water pipes can be discovered by running some tritium-containing water through the pipes and then using a Geiger counter to locate any radioactive tritium subsequently present in the ground around the pipes.

Recall that tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tracers can also be used to follow the steps of a complex chemical reaction. After incorporating radioactive atoms into reactant molecules, scientists can track where the atoms go by following their radioactivity. One excellent example of this is the use of carbon to determine the steps involved in photosynthesis in plants. We know these steps because researchers followed the progress of carbon throughout the process.

Radioactive isotopes are useful for establishing the ages of various objects. The half-life of radioactive isotopes is unaffected by any environmental factors, so the isotope acts like an internal clock. For example, if a rock is analyzed and is found to contain a certain amount of uranium and a certain amount of its daughter isotope, we can conclude that a certain fraction of the original uranium has radioactively decayed.

If half of the uranium has decayed, then the rock has an age of one half-life of uranium, or about 4. In another interesting example of radioactive dating, hydrogen-3 dating has been used to verify the stated vintages of some old fine wines. One isotope, carbon, is particularly useful in determining the age of once-living artifacts. A tiny amount of carbon is produced naturally in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and living things incorporate some of it into their tissues, building up to a constant, albeit very low, level.

Once a living thing dies, it no longer acquires carbon; as time passes the carbon that was in the tissues decays. The half-life of carbon is 5, y. If a once-living artifact is discovered and analyzed many years after its death and the remaining carbon is compared to the known constant level, an approximate age of the artifact can be determined.

Using such methods, scientists determined that the age of the Shroud of Turin Figure Scientists were also able to use radiocarbon dating to show that the age of a mummified body found in the ice of the Alps was 5, y. In , several groups of scientists used carbon dating to demonstrate that the Shroud of Turin was only — y. Many people still cling to a different notion, despite the scientific evidence. The radiation emitted by some radioactive substances can be used to kill microorganisms on a variety of foodstuffs, extending the shelf life of these products.

Produce such as tomatoes, mushrooms, sprouts, and berries are irradiated with the emissions from cobalt or cesium This exposure kills a lot of the bacteria that cause spoilage, so the produce stays fresh longer. Eggs and some meat, such as beef, pork, and poultry, can also be irradiated. Contrary to the belief of some people, irradiation of food does not make the food itself radioactive.

Radioactive isotopes have numerous medical applications—diagnosing and treating illness and diseases. One example of a diagnostic application is using radioactive iodine to test for thyroid activity Figure The thyroid gland in the neck is one of the few places in the body with a significant concentration of iodine. To evaluate thyroid activity, a measured dose of I is administered to a patient, and the next day a scanner is used to measure the amount of radioactivity in the thyroid gland.

The amount of radioactive iodine that collects there is directly related to the activity of the thyroid, allowing trained physicians to diagnose both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Iodine has a half-life of only 8 d, so the potential for damage due to exposure is minimal. Technetium can also be used to test thyroid function. Bones, the heart, the brain, the liver, the lungs, and many other organs can be imaged in similar ways by using the appropriate radioactive isotope.

Scan courtesy of Myo Han, http: Very little radioactive material is needed in these diagnostic techniques because the radiation emitted is so easy to detect. However, therapeutic applications usually require much larger doses because their purpose is to preferentially kill diseased tissues. For example, if a thyroid tumor were detected, a much larger infusion thousands of rem, as opposed to a diagnostic dose of less than 40 rem of iodine could help destroy the tumor cells.

Similarly, radioactive strontium is used to not only detect but also ease the pain of bone cancers. Table In addition to the direct application of radioactive isotopes to diseased tissue, the gamma ray emissions of some isotopes can be directed toward the tissue to be destroyed. Cobalt is a useful isotope for this kind of procedure. Wine lovers put some stock in vintages , or the years in which the wine grapes were grown before they were turned into wine. Wine can differ in quality depending on the vintage.

Some wine lovers willingly pay much more for a bottle of wine with a certain vintage. But how does one verify that a bottle of wine was in fact part of a certain vintage? Is the label a fake? Is that stash of wine found in the basement of a French chateau really from the s, or was it made in ? This wine label from a bottle of wine claims a vintage of Is the wine really from this vintage, or is it a fake?

Radioactivity can help determine the answer. Cesium is a radioactive isotope that has a half-life of It was introduced into the atmosphere in the s and s by the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by several countries after World War II. A significant amount of cesium was released during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in As a result of this atmospheric contamination, scientists have precise measurements of the amount of cesium available in the environment since Some of the isotope of cesium is taken up by living plants, including grape vines.

Using known vintages, oenologists wine scientists can construct a detailed analysis of the cesium of various wines through the years. It may be a good wine, but it is almost definitely not over 60 years old. Define tracer and give an example of how tracers work. Name two isotopes that have been used in radioactive dating. The current disintegration rate for carbon is A sample of burnt wood discovered in an archeological excavation is found to have a carbon disintegration rate of 3.

If the half-life of carbon is 5, y, approximately how old is the wood sample? A small asteroid crashes to Earth. After chemical analysis, it is found to contain 1 g of technetium to every 3 g of ruthenium, its daughter isotope. If the half-life of technetium is , y, approximately how old is the asteroid? Describe how iodine is used to both diagnose and treat thyroid problems.

List at least five organs that can be imaged using radioactive isotopes. Which radioactive emissions can be used therapeutically? Which isotope is used in therapeutics primarily for its gamma ray emissions? A tracer is a radioactive isotope that can be detected far from its original source to trace the path of certain chemicals. Hydrogen-3 can be used to trace the path of water underground. If the initial amount of a radioactive isotope is known, then by measuring the amount of the isotope remaining, a person can calculate how old that object is since it took up the isotope.

The thyroid gland absorbs most of the iodine, allowing it to be imaged for diagnostic purposes or preferentially irradiated for treatment purposes. Uses of Radioactive Isotopes by Jessie A. Skip to content Increase Font Size. Chapter Nuclear Chemistry. Learning Objective 1. Learn some applications of radioactivity. Radioactive Dating Radioactive isotopes are useful for establishing the ages of various objects. Figure Irradiation of Food The radiation emitted by some radioactive substances can be used to kill microorganisms on a variety of foodstuffs, extending the shelf life of these products.

Medical Applications Radioactive isotopes have numerous medical applications—diagnosing and treating illness and diseases. Food and Drink App: Radioactivity in Wines Wine lovers put some stock in vintages , or the years in which the wine grapes were grown before they were turned into wine. Used by permission of Ralph E. Key Takeaways Radioactivity has several practical applications, including tracers, medical applications, dating once-living objects, and preservation of food.

Exercises Define tracer and give an example of how tracers work. Name two isotopes that have been used as tracers. Explain how radioactive dating works. What is a positive aspect of the irradiation of food? What is a negative aspect of the irradiation of food? Units of Radioactivity. Share This Book.

Absolute radiometric dating requires a present in the rock can be used. Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other objects based on the fixed decay rate of radioactive isotopes. Learn about half-life and how it is .

Radiometric dating , radioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon , in which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed. The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope within the material to the abundance of its decay products, which form at a known constant rate of decay. Together with stratigraphic principles , radiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geologic time scale.

Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks.

Radiometric dating, often called radioactive dating, is a technique used to determine the age of materials such as rocks. It is based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates.

Radiometric Dating

Many rocks and organisms contain radioactive isotopes, such as U and C These radioactive isotopes are unstable, decaying over time at a predictable rate. As the isotopes decay, they give off particles from their nucleus and become a different isotope. The parent isotope is the original unstable isotope, and daughter isotopes are the stable product of the decay. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the parent isotopes to decay. The decay occurs on a logarithmic scale.

Radiometric dating

Petrology Tulane University Prof. Stephen A. Nelson Radiometric Dating Prior to the best and most accepted age of the Earth was that proposed by Lord Kelvin based on the amount of time necessary for the Earth to cool to its present temperature from a completely liquid state. Although we now recognize lots of problems with that calculation, the age of 25 my was accepted by most physicists, but considered too short by most geologists. Then, in , radioactivity was discovered. Recognition that radioactive decay of atoms occurs in the Earth was important in two respects: It provided another source of heat, not considered by Kelvin, which would mean that the cooling time would have to be much longer. It provided a means by which the age of the Earth could be determined independently. Principles of Radiometric Dating.

Radioactive isotopes have a variety of applications. Generally, however, they are useful because either we can detect their radioactivity or we can use the energy they release.

One of the most commonly used methods for determining the age of fossils is via radioactive dating a. Radioisotopes are alternative forms of an element that have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons. There are three types of radioactive decay that can occur depending on the radioisotope involved:

Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods

When we speak of the element Carbon, we most often refer to the most naturally abundant stable isotope 12 C. Although 12 C is definitely essential to life, its unstable sister isotope 14 C has become of extreme importance to the science world. Radiocarbon Dating is the process of determining the age of a sample by examining the amount of 14 C remaining against the known half-life, 5, years. The reason this process works is because when organisms are alive they are constantly replenishing their 14 C supply through respiration, providing them with a constant amount of the isotope. However, when an organism ceases to exist, it no longer takes in carbon from its environment and the unstable 14 C isotope begins to decay. From this science, we are able to approximate the date at which the organism were living on Earth. Radiocarbon dating is used in many fields to learn information about the past conditions of organisms and the environments present on Earth. Radiocarbon dating usually referred to simply as carbon dating is a radiometric dating method. It uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon 14C to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58, to 62, years old. Carbon has two stable, nonradioactive isotopes: There are also trace amounts of the unstable radioisotope carbon 14 C on Earth.

Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life

Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth's surface has changed dramatically over the past 4. Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free. These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth's surface is moving and changing. As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils. A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved. However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context. The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period.


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.

Radiocarbon Dating

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Radioactive Dating
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