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Radiometric Dating

By Erica W. Carlson

Purdue University

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Radiometric dating relies on nuclear processes inside atoms to determine the age of old objects. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons, with certain isotopes being unstable and undergoing radioactive decay. Each isotope has a specific half-life, and by measuring the parent-to-daughter atom ratio, scientists can calculate the object's age. Radiometric dating is widely used in various fields, such as geology, archeology, and medicine. Different isotopes are employed for different age ranges, with carbon-14 dating suitable for objects less than 50,000 years old. The method has proven successful in dating artifacts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even provides insights into the universe's age through starlight analysis.


Erica W. Carlson is Professor of Physics at Purdue University. Prof. Carlson holds a BS in physics from California Institute of Technology, and completed a PhD in Physics at UCLA in 2000. After pursuing postdoctoral work at Boston University, she joined the faculty at Purdue in 2003. Prof. Carlson's research is in theoretical condened matter physics, focusing on the electronic properties of novel materials. Just as solid, liquid, and gas are different phases of matter, electrons inside of materials have their own phases of matter and phase transitions. Prof. Carlson uses theoretical techniques from statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics to explore new electronic phases of matter.

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The primary support provided by the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, Outreach, and Workforce Initiative Programs under Grant No. HQ0034-21-1-0014. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Defense nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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  • Erica W. Carlson (2023), "Radiometric Dating," https://nanohub.org/resources/37323.

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Dongyang Li

Purdue University