Radiometric Dating Lab
In this lab, we will review the basic concepts related to radiometric dating and complete a practice activity simulating how radioactive decay occurs.
Relative vs. Absolute Dating
Relative dating is the science of determining the relative order of past events (i.e., the age of an object in comparison to another), without necessarily determining their absolute age (i.e. estimated age). Relative dating gives an approximate age of something compared to some other event in history. Scientists can tell that the item is “older” or “younger” than certain events in time, but cannot give an exact age of the item. Relative dating is common when comparing layers of rocks in different regions, and figuring out which fossil is older by comparing the rock layers the fossils are in.
Absolute dating gives an actual date in history that the item was formed or died. The most common type of absolute dating for geologic material is radiometric dating. A rock containing a radioactive element can be dated by measuring how much of the element remains. Radiometric dating methods give absolute ages ranging from decades to billions of years.
Radiometric dating provides science with a powerful tool for reconstructing our planet’s history. The idea that radioactivity could be used as a measure of the age of geologic formations was first suggested in 1905 by a British physicist, Lord Rutherford. Not until the 1950s, however, was precise dating achieved and accepted by the scientific community. The methodologies and instruments for radiometric dating have been expanded and fine-tuned in the half-century since, and very accurate dating is now possible.