Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Using Melting Ice to Teach Radiometric Decay

# Using Melting Ice to Teach Radiometric Dating

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

• Scientific Accuracy
• Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
• Pedagogic Effectiveness
• Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
• Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Feb 25, 2006

#### Summary

Students are challenged to a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery in which they construct their own decay curves of melting ice to determine time-zero. In the process, the analogies to radiometric dating and some elementary thermodynamics can be discussed.

## Learning Goals

• Explore ice melting as an analogue to radiometric decay.

## Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for use in an introductory geology course as a means to discuss the issues of radiometric dating and geologic time.

## Teaching Notes and Tips

• Large, thin-walled metal funnels are best because of their high thermal conductivity.
• Don't allow too much time between taking the ice out of the freezer and putting it into the apparatus. Some supercooling is desirable.
• Use a large vertical scale on the graphs to produce a steep slope and enable students to easily project the line back to time-zero.
• Start the activity before class begins so that students don't have to deal with the thermal disequilibrium issues at the outset.
• The first couple of data point can be supplied to shorten the activity.

## Teaching Materials

The setup for the activity involves these materials:
• Funnel and Ring Stand
• Medium sized graduated cylinder
• Chopped/Cubed Ice
• Graph Paper for plotting the melting curve

The author's original article has suggestions for a storyline to go along with the activity.

## Assessment

When students have finished plotting their data, they should check their answer for time-zero against the answer provided by the instructor. Student participation is the aim of this exercise.

## References and Resources

Wise, 1990 , Using Melting Ice to Teach Radiometric Dating. Journal of Geological Education, 38(1), p. 38-40,69.

## Quantiative Skills Addressed

Interpretation of graphical information, Estimation

## Geoscience Topics Covered

Time/Earth History

## Contact the Author

d_wise@acad.fandm.edu

## Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Historical Geology, Geochemistry:Radioisotopes
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration, Activities:Lab Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level
Quantitative Skills: Logarithms/Exponential Functions:Exponential Growth and Decay, Graphs, Estimation
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Earth System Topics: Time/Earth History, Solid Earth:Earth Materials
Topics: Time/Earth History

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