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Come back and tell us about your project using the “I Did This Project” link for the project you choose. Roll the Dice & Use Radiometric Dating to Find Out." Science Buddies, 2 Apr. Geologists have a much harder job keeping track of time.You’ll find a link to “I Did This Project” on every project on the Science Buddies website so don’t forget to share your story! Studying the Earth and its evolution, they work with time scales of thousands to billions of years.Scientists call these different variations of the same element isotopes of each other. Radioactive refers to the characteristic that these isotopes are unstable and tend to fall apart.For example, the element potassium (which always has 19 protons in its nucleus) occurs in nature in three forms: an isotope with 39 nucleons (19 protons and 20 neutrons), one with 40 nucleons (19 protons and 21 neutrons), and one with 41 nucleons (19 protons and 22 neutrons) . They emit, or radiate, particles in their conversion to stability. Isotopes exhibit a range of radioactive decay processes.The number of protons within an atom's nucleus is called the atomic number. The atomic number is important for locating an element on the periodic table, shown in Figure 2.You might have seen the periodic table in your science textbook or displayed on a poster in the classroom. In the periodic table, each entry represents an element.To take it a step further, once only 1/4 of the original amount of K-40 isotopes are left (half of the half left over after 1.25 billion years), geologists can say that 2.5 billion years (double the half-life time) have gone by.
Yes, radioactive isotopes present in rocks and other ancient material decay atom by atom at a steady rate, much as clocks tick time away.Geologists who want to date objects are interested in the isotopes that change identity as they undergo radioactive decay.In other words, they change their number of protons during radioactive decay and turn into a different element.Geologists (along with paleontologists, archeologists, and anthropologists) actually turn to the elements for answers to their geological time questions. The nucleus itself is made of protons and neutrons, collectively called nucleons.Figure 1 provides a visual representation of an atom.