Carbon dating popcorn analogy

Summary Popping popcorn in your class is an excellent way to illustrate both the spontaneity and irreversible change associated with radioactive decay. Related Links Radioactive Decay. This is an in-class demonstration. I usually perform it after I have introduced radioactive decay and talked about how it works.

It only takes a few minutes and I usually talk while I am waiting for the "decay" to happen. Required equipment includes popcorn, vegetable oil, a pan and a hot plate a hot air popper or other popcorn popper would work too.

If you're doing it the old-fashioned way pan and hot plate , a bit of newspaper would be a good idea, too, as I like to leave the top of the pan off and the oil can splatter a bit. If you decide to go with the pan, oil and hot plate as opposed to air popper , there are a few things I recommend: Put only a few 5 or so kernels in to start. Leave the top of the pan off.

Students get a kick out of seeing the popcorn go flying. It makes it more exciting for you, too -- I always miscount and end up getting scared by the last kernel.

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Put some newspaper under the hotplate so that oil doesn't get everywhere. The first time I did this, I made a pretty big mess on the lab bench. After the initial "decay" and if your class isn't too large, pop some more with the lid on so that students can enjoy the demonstration too. Popcorn popping is a great analogy for the spontaneity of radioactive decay. It is impossible to predict which kernel will pop first. If you can, bring in a hotplate, a small pan, oil and some popcorn.

Put the oil in the pan with a few kernels of popcorn. Uranium is the parent nuclide.

Using Popcorn to Simulate Radioactive Decay

Thorium is the daughter nuclide. When a radioisotope decays to form a different nuclide, it also emits a particle. What do we mean when we say radioactive decay? These transformations take place until a stable, non-radioactive isotope is formed. The series of reactions is referred to as a decay series or decay chain.

There are three naturally-occurring decay series: Uranium is the parent nuclide and Lead is the stable, final daughter nuclide. The column on the left tells you what type of radiation is emitted in each decay reaction.


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  • Carbon dating popcorn analogy!
  • Carbon dating popcorn analogy.

What would happen after a second interval? Create the Excel spreadsheet shown below to find out!

Context for Use

Cell C3 is the number of kernels you start with in the popper. Cell C4 is the probability that a kernel will pop in a second interval. Column B lists the numbers of seconds that have passed. Remember we are thinking in second intervals.

Want to add to the discussion?

Set up Column C to calculate the number of kernels remaining unpopped after each second period. So, why am I supposed to be thinking about popcorn? First, create fifteen second intervals in Column B. Create Column D to look at the ratio of popped to unpopped kernels. This is simply the number of kernels remaining after each second interval divided by the number of kernels you started with. What happens in the second intervals after the first one? The half-life of the popcorn is the time at which half of the kernels remain unpopped.

Use your trendline equation to determine the half-life of our popcorn sample set. Looking at Popcorn Popping Graphically.

Carbon dating popcorn analogy | Fleet News Daily

N o is the starting number of kernels. N is the number of unpopped kernels at time t.


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  7. Start thinking about your answer to this question and we will explore it in depth in the next module. The Popcorn Popping Function. Just as a kernel pops into a piece of popcorn… So does a radioactive atom of a parent isotope decay to a radiogenic atom of the daughter isotope. What we know is only the probability that it will occur in the next time interval!

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    This probability is consistent over time and is also known as the decay constant commonly denoted as. There are many excellent references on radiometric dating and its context. We particularly recommend G. See particularly, Chapter 4: How Radiometric Dating Works. Answer the question on Slide 7: Change your values and hand in this spreadsheet with a graph of the new example. We have discussed the half-life of our popcorn kernels.

    Thinking in the same way, what do you think the third-life of the kernels is?

    Report a general definition as well as a numerical value. Suppose you have a population of radon Rn atoms. The probability that Rn will decay in a one-day period is.