The Never-Ending Contamination
Radioactivity and Half-Lives
School of Science and Technology
Georgia Gwinnett College
This case study discusses a possible national security crisis of a terrorist group stealing radioactive materials in an attempt to build and detonate a dirty bomb over a densely populated metropolitan area. Specifically, this case discusses radioactive decay, which has many applications from carbon-14 dating of ancient manuscripts to dating the age of the solar system to radiation sickness. Radioactive decay can be discussed in a number of courses, in physics, chemistry, earth science, health science courses and others. The case study questions cover a range of applications, and instructors can choose a subset of these questions depending on the main interest of their class.
- Define the concept of half-life.
- Use radiometric dating, including finding the age of a sample using its half-life, and the current and original amounts of the material.
- Describe how we determine the age of the Earth, of other solar system objects, and of the solar system itself.
- Describe the main effects of radiation on living organisms.
Keywordsradioactivity; dirty bomb; radiation sickness; radioactive dating; carbon dating; half-life; radiometric dating;
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsN/A, Directed
Subject HeadingsPhysics | Environmental Science | Chemistry (General) | Public Health |