All matter is made up of atoms. Atoms that are unstable decay by emitting α, β or γ particles from their nuclei. In a more unstable substance, there is a very higher chance that an atom will decay in any given period of time. Decay is a random process – you cannot predict which atom will decay next or when any one atom will decay. In just the same way, when you roll a die, you cannot decide what number you will get. In this experiment we will be using one random process (rolling dice) to model another random process (radioactive decay), in order to find out more about it.

Exponential Decay
Radioactive decay follows an exponential decline given by

=
where = = = = = + number of unstable nuclei remaining initial number of unstable nuclei exponential function decay constant time

By taking logs of both sides we can find

=−
So we can plot a graph of and a y intercept of .

against , and we should find a straight line with a gradient of –

Decay Constant and Half-Life
The decay constant, λ, is the probability with which any nucleus will decay in any given second. We can use it to find the half-life of a substance by using

=

In this experiment you will roll 100 ten-sided dice, with each die representing one unstable nucleus. You are going to run a simulation for 20 rolls (20 units of time) for three types of radioactive substance: relatively stable (1 in 10 chance of decay), unstable (2 in 10 chance of decaying) or very unstable (4 in 10 chance of decaying). So for the relatively stable substance, select one number between 0 and 9. Then roll all the dice at once (use the tray provided). All dice that show the number you selected must be removed, counted and NOT replaced. Keep these to one side. Then reroll all the remaining dice and repeat this process. http://phy.si

For the unstable nucleus you will select two numbers, and for the very unstable nucleus four numbers. Complete each run for 20 rolls (or until all the atoms are decayed), recording the activity, A, (i.e. how many unstable atoms decayed with that roll) and the number of unstable nuclei remaining, N. Plot a graph of each curve clearly. against , for each ‘substance’ (you can do all three on the same axes). Label

Record your values of , Relatively stable

and

:

=

=

=
Unstable

=

=

=
Very stable

=

=

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