Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Understanding Radioactivity in Geology: The Basics of Decay

# Understanding Radioactivity in Geology: The Basics of Decay

### This activity has benefited from a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop. Workshop participants were provided with a set of criteria against which they evaluated each others' activities. After the review, the authors developed a plan for revising their activities based on the feedback they received from their peers. To learn more about this review process, see http://serc.carleton.edu/quantskills/review_processes.html#2006.

#### Summary

One of a collection of PowerPoint/Excel modules designed to reinforce quantitative skills in geologic context. The module explores the exponential decay of radioactive parents through the analogy with popping popcorn. Students build a spreadsheet to calculate the number of unpopped kernels of popcorn as a function of time starting with the probability that a given kernel will pop during a 10-sec interval. The module introduces the mathematics of the exponential function as a modeling function in both analytical and numerical contexts.

## Learning Goals

Students will:
• Consider a familiar occurrence of exponential decay in a quantitative way.
• Gain experience in forward modeling of an exponential decay phenomenon.
• Consider the relationship between the decay constant and the probability that a particular parent atom of a radioactive isotope will convert to its radiogenic daughter atom
• Gain experience in fitting a trendline to a column of data.

## Context for Use

This activity was designed for an upper-division math-in-geology course for geology majors but can easily be used in an introductory undergraduate geoscience class, as well as a high school pre-calculus class.

## Description and Teaching Materials

module (PowerPoint 703kB Dec24 06)

## Teaching Notes and Tips

The module is intended as a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a lab exercise or handwork assignment, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity with just-in-time teaching of mathematical problem solving. The problem context and the mathematical content are developed within the module.

## Assessment

The module ends with hand-in questions that the students answer by manipulating the spreadsheets that they prepared while working through the module.

## References and Resources

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