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Simulation of Radioactive Decay Instructions

Radioactive materials are harmful to living tissues. Their half-lives are difficult to measure without taking safety precautions. To eliminate these problems, you will simulate the decay of unstable nuclei by using harmless materials that are easy to observe. In this experiment, you will use pennies to represent nuclei. Each observation you make will represent one half-life for the "radioactive" atoms.

Procedure

  1. Copy the data table onto a separate sheet of paper or your journal.
  2. Count out 100 atoms and place them in the cup.
  3. Record the amount of radioactive atoms. With the first observation, you will have 100 radioactive atoms.
  4. Carefully dump the atoms from the cup on to your desk top and arrange them into a single layer.
  5. Remove all the atoms that have landed as heads and count them. These atoms represent decayed nuclei. They are now stable atoms. Set them aside on your desk.
  6. Record the number of decayed atoms (stable) in the data table.
  7. Record the number of remaining radioactive atoms in the data table.
  8. Scoop up the radioactive atoms and put them in the cup.
  9. Calculate the percent of the original material that decayed according to the following formula:

    % decayed = 100 [ ( # of atoms decayed)   ÷   (# of radioactive atoms you started with on this step) ]

    EXAMPLE Data Table
    Observation Number of radioactive atoms (tails) Number of atoms decayed (heads) % decayed
    1 100 (starting number) 52 100 (52/100) = 52%
    2 48 22 100 (22/48) = 46%
    3 26 12 100 (12/26) = 46%
    4 14 10 100 (10/14) = 71%
    5 4 1 100 (1/4) = 25%
    6 3 1 100 (1/3) = 33%
    7 2 2 100 (2/2) = 100%
    Average % decay (52 + 46 + 46 + 71 + 25 + 33 + 100) / 7 = 53%

     
  10. Repeat steps 3-9 until all of the atoms have decayed (you will have between 5-10 observations).
  11. Average the percentage (%) decayed calculations and record.
  12. Use graph paper to make a line graph of your results, with the number of radioactive atoms (tails) on the y-axis and the observation numbers (half-lives) on the x-axis.