Radiometric dating is a means of determining the "age" of a mineral specimen by determining the relative amounts present of certain radioactive elements. By "age" we mean the elapsed time from when the mineral specimen was formed. Radioactive elements "decay" that is, change into other elements by "half lives. The formula for the fraction remaining is one-half raised to the power given by the number of years divided by the half-life in other words raised to a power equal to the number of half-lives. If we knew the fraction of a radioactive element still remaining in a mineral, it would be a simple matter to calculate its age by the formula. To determine the fraction still remaining, we must know both the amount now present and also the amount present when the mineral was formed.
How Do Scientists Determine the Age of Dinosaur Bones?
Geologic Time: Radiometric Time Scale
During natural radioactive decay, not all atoms of an element are instantaneously changed to atoms of another element. The decay process takes time and there is value in being able to express the rate at which a process occurs. Half-lives can be calculated from measurements on the change in mass of a nuclide and the time it takes to occur. The only thing we know is that in the time of that substance's half-life, half of the original nuclei will disintegrate. Although chemical changes were sped up or slowed down by changing factors such as temperature, concentration, etc, these factors have no effect on half-life.
RADIOMETRIC TIME SCALE
Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years. This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. These use radioactive minerals in rocks as geological clocks.
Radioactive decay can be used to date igneous rocks by assuming making some assumptions, finding the percentages of parent to daughter products and using experimentally determined half-lives. Start with the assumptions that the rock 1. That there have been no factors that have influenced the rate of radioactive decay during the "life" of the rock. Second determine the percentages of the parent to the daughter elements in the rock.