The half-life of an isotope is the time on average that it takes for half of the atoms in a sample to decay.
For example, the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. This means that if you have a sample of carbon-14 with 1,000 atoms, 500 of these atoms are expected to decay over the course of 5730 years. Some of the atoms may decay right away, while others will not decay for many thousands more years.
The thing to remember about half-life is that it is a probability. In the example above, 500 atoms are “expected” to decay. This is not a guarantee for one specific sample. It is just what will happen on average over the course of billions and billions of atoms.
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Factoid of the Week:
Though it was Henri Becquerel that discovered radioactivity in 1896, it was Marie Curie who coined the term.
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Words of Wisdom:
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. -Marie Curie