Paleontology dating fossils

For example, U-235 is an unstable isotope of uranium that has 92 protons and 143 neutrons in the nucl eus of each atom.

Students should be able to understand the principles and have that as a background so that age determinations by paleontologists and geologists don't seem like black magic. Geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century studied rock layers and the fossils in them to determine relative age.

William Smith was one of the most important scientists from this time who helped to develop knowledge of the succession of different fossils by studying their distribution through the sequence of sedimentary rocks in southern England.

There was no way to calculate an “absolute” age (in years) for any fossil or rock layer.

Advertisement But after scientists learned that the nuclear decay of radioactive elements takes place at a predictable rate, they realized that the traces of radioactive elements present in certain types of rock, such as hardened lava and tuff (formed from compacted volcanic ash), could be analyzed chemically to determine the ages, in years, of those rocks.

In general, with the exception of the single proton that constitutes the nucleus of the most abundant isotope of hydrogen, the number of neutrons must at least equal the number of protons in an atomic nucleus, because electrostatic repulsion prohibits denser packing of protons.

But if there are too many neutrons, the nucleus is potentially unstable and decay may be triggered.

It is estimated to require four hours of class time, including approximately one hour total of occasional instruction and explanation from the teacher and two hours of group (team) and individual activities by the students, plus one hour of discussion among students within the working groups.

Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson: This activity will help students to have a better understanding of the basic principles used to determine the age of rocks and fossils. Objectives of this activity are: 1) To have students determine relative age of a geologically complex area.

4) To demonstrate how the rate of radioactive decay and the buildup of the resulting decay product is used in radiometric dating of rocks. (A single watch or clock for the entire class will do.) 6) Piece of paper marked TIME and indicating either 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 minutes.

5) To use radiometric dating and the principles of determining relative age to show how ages of rocks and fossils can be narrowed even if they cannot be dated radiometrically. 2) Large cup or other container in which M & M's can be shaken. 7) 128 small cards or buttons that may be cut from cardboard or construction paper, preferably with a different color on opposite sides, each marked with "U-235" all on one colored side and "Pb-207" on the opposite side that has some contrasting color.

This happens at any time when addition of the fleeting "weak nuclear force" to the ever-present electrostatic repulsion exceeds the binding energy required to hold the nucleus together.