Radioactive Decay Activity using Pennies
This site is an activity simulating radioactive decay using pennies. Good activity illustrating half-life.
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- to illustrate the exponential nature of radioactive decay
- to demonstrate the concept of half-life
- to establish the randomness of radioactive decay
- to illustrate the concept that quantity determines the number of isotopes that decay
If your class is particularly large, you might want to have a few students help you count the "undecayed" isotopes. This demonstration is a great way to break up the lecture with a short activity – students get to stretch their legs. I often give students the penny at the beginning of class with no explanation – or say something like, "Today, you're getting paid for coming to class!" After introducing some of the concepts involved in radioactive decay, I do the demonstration. I usually let them keep the penny at the end of the class.