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It then takes the same amount of time for half the remaining radioactive atoms to decay, and the same amount of time for half of those remaining radioactive atoms to decay, and so on. The amount of time it takes for one-half of a sample to decay is called the half-life of the isotope, and it’s given the symbol: It’s important to realize that the half-life decay of radioactive isotopes is not linear.
For example, you can’t find the remaining amount of an isotope as 7.5 half-lives by finding the midpoint between 7 and 8 half-lives.
If you ever wondered why nuclear tests are now performed underground, this is why.
Carbon-14 (C-14), a radioactive isotope of carbon, is produced in the upper atmosphere by cosmic radiation.
The primary carbon-containing compound in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and a very small amount of carbon dioxide contains C-14.
This has to do with figuring out the age of ancient things.
If you could watch a single atom of a radioactive isotope, U-238, for example, you wouldn’t be able to predict when that particular atom might decay.