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Radioactive Half Life

Purpose (research question):
To check whether radioactivity of a sample of Ba-137 decreases exponentially over time.
In particular to measure the radioactive half life of Ba-137 (table value is 2.6 minutes).
Background and theory:
1) Radioactivity – both α, β and γ – originates from inside the nucleus, not from the
outer atom.
2) Radioactivity is a random process – but on average, a fixed percentage of a radio
active sample decays every second. For example, the radioactive radon isotope
Rn-220 decays by 1.3 % every second. This means that if you start out with 1000
radon-220 atoms, after 1 second there will be 987 left (the others will not have
disappeared but have decayed to some other element), and after another second
there will be only 974 left (1.3 % less than 987).
3) From 2) follows that the number of
radioactive nuclei left in the sample is an
exponentially decreasing function of
time. Also, the activity (as measured by a
GM-tube) will be exponentially

AA0ekt ,
where k = ln(2) / T½ and T½ is the half life.
This should be well known from maths.
4) Since the underlying process is random, there will be fluctuations in an
actual (t,A)-graph, according to the square root rule: the absolute uncertainty
on a radioactive count A is


5) We detect the radiation with a Geigercounter, inside which i) the radiation
ionizes gas-molecules which ii) are then
accelerated in an electric field and hence
Geiger tube and counter
( Wikipedia

. Hence we are able to look at only Ba-137 in the experiment. Clever! Investigation: 1) Hook up the Geiger tube to LoggerPro and set the sample rate to be “once per 5 seconds”. so that eventually iv) there will be an “avalanche” of electrons speeding towards the electrode. In a container we have a sample of Cs-137 (of half life about 30 years) which is constantly βdecaying to Ba-137 (excited). In the container there is thus a dynamic equilibrium between the two elements Cs-137 and Ba-137.iii) ionize further gas-molecules. 2) Mount the tube in a stand and measure the background radiation for some time. hence v) creating an electric pulse (a “beep”) in the counter. which is vi) recorded by a counter or directly in the computer program. We chemically extract the Ba-137 by flushing the sample with a HCl-solution. which then in turn γ-decays to Ba-137 (stable). The radioactive source for this investigation: We are using a so-called Barium-generator to provide the radioactive sample.

we got a beautiful exponentially decreasing graph. we got a sample of the radioactive substance Ba-137 from the teacher and immediately started logging the activity.Graph 1 Background radiation 3) When we determined the background radiation. . 4) After about 10 minutes.

Conclusion: . and the actual value we got in 2) is about 6.Graph 2 Raw graph of radiation of a function as time ln(2) 5) Process the data by having LoggerPro fit with the y = A*exp( function  C *t)+B Graph 3 Graph with best-fit line The fit values for the parameters (remember units and include the uncertainties given by LoggerPro!): i) A = (191.4) counts iii) C = (150.3 +/.7 +/.6 minutes (i.9 counts.5 +/.0 counts. The value of B is between 4. 6.1) seconds 6) Parameter B ought to be the constant background radiation level.3. calculate the %-deviation).8.e.0 counts is in that range.7 +/. because all the radiation has decayed after 10 min.8.2) counts ii) B = (7.1 and 10.3. 7) Half life: * the observed half life: T½ = (150.1) s * Compare the observed value to the expected value of 2.

6 s and 158.7 +/. 156 s is in the interval between 142.8. which is 156 s.1) s.6 min.8 s. The radioactive half live of Ba-137 we got is (150. The table value of that should be 2. .According to Graph 3. the radioactivity of a sample of Ba-137 DOES decrease exponentially over time.