There are two types of age determinations.
Geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century studied rock layers and the fossils in them to determine relative age. William Smith was one of the most important scientists from this time who helped How is radioactive hookup used to estimate absolute age develop knowledge of the succession of different fossils by studying their distribution through the sequence of sedimentary rocks in southern England.
It wasn't until well into the 20th century that enough information had accumulated about the rate of radioactive decay that the age of rocks and fossils in number of years could be determined through radiometric age dating. This activity on determining age of rocks and fossils is intended for 8th or 9th grade students. It is estimated to require four hours of class time, including approximately one hour total of occasional instruction and explanation from the teacher and two hours of group team and individual activities by the students, plus one hour of discussion among students within the working groups.
Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson: Students not only want to know how old a fossil is, but they want to know how that age was determined. Some very straightforward principles are used to determine the age of fossils. Students should be able to understand the principles and have that as a background so that age determinations by paleontologists and geologists don't seem like black magic.
This activity consists of several parts. Objectives of this activity are: A single watch or clock for the entire class will do. Return to top PART 1: After students have decided how to establish the relative age of each rock How is radioactive hookup used to estimate absolute age, they should list them under the block, from most recent at the top of the list to oldest at the bottom.
The teacher should tell the students that there are two basic principles used by geologists to determine the sequence of ages of rocks. Younger sedimentary rocks are deposited on top of older sedimentary rocks. Principle of cross-cutting relations: Any geologic feature is younger than anything else that it cuts across. For example, U is an unstable isotope of uranium that has 92 protons and neutrons in the nucl eus of each atom.
Through a series of changes within the nucleus, it emits several particles, ending up with 82 protons and neutrons. This is a stable condition, and there are no more changes in the atomic nucleus. A nucleus with that number of protons is called lead chemical symbol Pb.
The protons 82 and neutrons total This particular form isotope of lead is called Pb U is the parent isotope of Pb, which is the daughter isotope. Many rocks contain small amounts of unstable isotopes and the daughter isotopes into which they decay. Where the amounts of parent and daughter isotopes can be accurately measured, the ratio can be used to determine how old the rock is, as shown in the following activities.
That chance of decay is very small, but it is always present and it never changes. In other words, the nuclei do not "wear out" or get "tired".
If the nucleus has not yet decayed, there is always that same, slight chance that it will change in the near future. Atomic nuclei are held together by an attraction between the large nuclear particles protons and neutrons that is known as the "strong nuclear force", which must exceed the electrostatic repulsion between the protons within the nucleus.
In general, with the exception of the single proton that constitutes the nucleus of the most abundant isotope of hydrogen, the number of neutrons must at least equal the number of protons in an atomic nucleus, because electrostatic repulsion prohibits denser packing of protons. But if there are too many neutrons, the nucleus is potentially unstable and decay may be triggered. This happens at any time when addition of the fleeting "weak nuclear force" to the ever-present electrostatic repulsion exceeds "How is radioactive hookup used to estimate absolute age" binding energy required to hold the nucleus together.
In other words, during million years, half the U atoms that existed at the beginning of that time will decay to Pb This is known as the half life of U- Many elements have some isotopes that are unstable, essentially because they have too many neutrons to be balanced by the number of protons in the nucleus. Each of these unstable isotopes has its own characteristic half life.
Some half lives are several billion years long, and others are as short as a ten-thousandth of a second. On a piece of notebook paper, each piece should be placed with the printed M facing down. This represents the parent isotope. The candy should be poured into a container large enough for them to bounce around freely, it should be shaken thoroughly, then poured back onto the paper so that it is spread out instead of making a pile.
This first time of shaking represents one half life, and all those pieces of candy that have the printed M facing up represent a change to the daughter isotope. Then, count the number of pieces of candy left with the M facing down. These are the parent isotope that did not change during the first half life.
The teacher should have each team report how many pieces of parent isotope remain, and the first row of the decay table Figure 2 should be filled in and the average number calculated. The same procedure of shaking, counting the "survivors", and filling in the How is radioactive hookup used to estimate absolute age row on the decay table should be done seven or eight more times.
Each time represents a half life. Each team should plot on a graph Figure 3 the number of pieces of candy remaining after each of their "shakes" and connect each successive point on the graph with a light line. AND, on the same graph, each group should plot points where, after each "shake" the starting number is divided by exactly two and connect these points by a differently colored line. After the graphs are plotted, the teacher should guide the class into thinking about: Is it the single group's results, or is it the line based on the class average?
U is found in most igneous rocks. Unless the rock is heated to a very high temperature, both the U and its daughter Pb remain in the rock. A geologist can compare the proportion of U atoms to Pb produced from it and determine the age of the rock. The next part of this exercise shows how this is done. The team should place each marked piece so that "U" is showing. This represents Uranium, which emits a series of particles from the nucleus as it decays to Lead Pb- When each team is ready with the pieces all showing "U", a timed two-minute interval should start.
During that time each team turns over half of the U pieces so that they now show Pb This represents one "half-life" of U, which is the time for half the nuclei to change from the parent U to the daughter Pb A new two-minute interval begins. Continue through a total of 4 to 5 timed intervals. After all the timed intervals have occurred, teams should exchange places with one another as instructed by the teacher.
The task now for each team is to determine how many timed intervals that is, how many half-lives the set of pieces they are looking at has experienced.