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Radioactivity and Radiation page 1

Radioactive Decay
Radioactive Decay 

The radioactive decay of a sample of atoms is characterized by the half-life of those atoms. The half-life is the time it takes for half of the atoms of a sample of radionuclides to decay. Thus, if the half-life of 1000 atoms was 1 day, then after 1 day we would expect 500 atoms would remain undecayed. After 2 days, we would expect 250 atoms would remain undecayed. After 3 days, we would expect 125 atoms would remain undecayed. And so on.

If we had a sample that contained N0 atoms at time t=0, then it can be shown that the number of atoms of a sample at some time t is given by


where t1/2 is the half-life of the atoms in the sample. The number e is a mathematical constant, approximately equal to 2.71828.  We can also define a characteristic for the atoms in the sample called the decay constant (λ) which is given by

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