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Half-Life Model (Nuclear Decay) Laboratory

Radioactive isotopes are unstable atoms that decompose spontaneously to the atoms of a different
element. The breakdown of atoms takes place at a set rate, called half-life, which differs for each
radioactive isotope. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for one-half of the atoms in a sample
of a radioactive isotope to decay to the atoms of a different element. Because it is not practical
for you to study the half-life of a real radioactive isotope, you will use a model of such an element
in this activity.
Purpose: The purpose of this lab is to use a model to study half-life. A decay curve of the model
atoms will be constructed.
Materials: split peas (100 per lab group), 2 small beakers, clock or watch
1. Label the beakers Decayed Atoms and Undecayed Atoms.
2. Obtain a sample of 100 split peas. Count your sample to make sure you have 100 split peas. Place
this sample into your beaker marked Undecayed Atoms. Each pea will represent one atom of the
imaginary element peanium.
3. Shake the Undecayed Atoms beaker and dump the split peas out onto the table.
4. Note that some peas landed curved side down and the others landed curved side up. Separate
the peas into two groups, according to the position up or down, of the curved side. The group with
the curved side down will represent the peanium atoms that have decayed to the atoms of a
daughter element. The group with the curved side up will represent the undecayed peanium atoms.
5. Count the undecayed peanium atoms and record the number in your data table.
6. Place the decayed peanium atoms in the Decayed Atoms beaker. Return the undecayed atoms to
the Undecayed Atoms beaker.
7. Repeat steps 4-7 until there are no more atoms in the Undecayed Atoms beaker.
Data and Analysis:
Create a data table in your lab book as shown below. Note: You may have more than 3 runs
Data Table
Run #
Number of Undecayed
Number of decayed

1. Make a graph of your results. Place time (the run number), on the x-axis and the number of
atoms on the y-axis.
2. Draw 2 lines on your graph, one for the number of remaining undecayed peanium atoms
(curved side up). And another line for the daughter elements (curved side down).
3. What is the relationship between time and the number of remaining peanium atoms?
4. If each run represented 1 day, according to your graph, what would be the half-life of
5. What is the ratio of parent (peanium) atoms to daughter atoms after 3 half-lives?

6. How can scientists use this ratio to determine the absolute age of a rock sample?