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

This page first made public: Feb 25, 2006


This activity leads students through derivations of the equations associated with radiometric dating: the radioactive decay equation, the half-life equation and the age equation. After the equations have been derived, students are asked to apply them to geologic applications: Which radioactive element is appropriate for dating in a certain age range? How accurate are figures for half-lives? How do you deal with decays which produce radioactive products which then themselves decay?

Learning Goals

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for lower division undergraduates. It assumes some knowledge of calculus in the form of exponential functions and their derivatives and integrals as well as systems of simple differential equations.

Teaching Materials

Activity Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 508kB Jan20 04)


Student answer several questions and do several calculations and derivations over the course of the activity which can be handed in for grading.

Contact the Author

Please contact the authors with questions or suggestions.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geochemistry:Radioisotopes, Mathematics, Geoscience:Geology:Historical Geology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Quantitative Skills: Vectors and Matrices, Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Time/Earth History
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Early Earth, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geochemistry

See more Activities »