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.
In other words, during 704 million years, half the U-235 atoms that existed at the beginning of that time will decay to Pb-207. 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.
Return to top Each team of 3 to 5 students should discuss together how to determine the relative age of each of the rock units in the block diagram (Figure 1).
After students have decided how to establish the relative age of each rock unit, they should list them under the block, from most recent at the top of the list to oldest at the bottom.
On a piece of notebook paper, each piece should be placed with the printed M facing down. 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.
Some half lives are several billion years long, and others are as short as a ten-thousandth of a second.
Return to top A tasty way for students to understand about half life is to give each team 100 pieces of "regular" M & M candy.
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".
For example, U-235 is an unstable isotope of uranium that has 92 protons and 143 neutrons in the nucl eus of each atom.