Encyclopedia of Scientific Dating Methods

Living Edition
| Editors: W. Jack Rink, Jeroen Thompson

Radioactive Decay Constants: A Review

  • W. Jack Rink
  • L. M. Heaman
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6326-5_264-1


The radioactive decay constant (λ) is a characteristic of unstable radionuclides (see chart of the nuclides) that spontaneously decay at different rates to a more stable atomic configuration; the larger the decay constant, the more rapidly the parent radionuclide is depleted with time. The basic formulation of the radioactive decay equation is based on the principle that the number of decay events of any radioactive parent atom is proportional to the number of these atoms present at any given time (Rutherford and Soddy 1902). This basic principle has been transformed into the law of radioactive decay N = N0 e−λt, which states that given an initial number N0 of radioactive parent nuclei at start time t = 0, the number of radioactive nuclei remaining at time t is given by N. Related to the decay constant is the half-life t½ of a radioactive nucleus: t½ = ln 2/λ. The half-life is the time in which half the number of parent nuclides have decayed.


The determination...


Decay Constant Radioactive Decay Geological Material Decay Event Parent Nucleus 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and Earth SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada