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Perhaps a puddle of a certain size will evaporate down to half its original volume in one day.But on the second day, there is no reason to expect that one-quarter of the puddle will remain; in fact, it will probably be much less than that.While a radioactive isotope decays almost perfectly according to so-called "first order kinetics" where the rate constant is a fixed number, the elimination of a substance from a living organism usually follows more complex chemical kinetics.Ravid’s a street smart, real world relationship coach who helps smart women find smart love, releasing the drama, disappointment, and baggage of the past.Rutherford applied the principle of a radioactive element's half-life to studies of age determination of rocks by measuring the decay period of radium to lead-206.Half-life is constant over the lifetime of an exponentially decaying quantity, and it is a characteristic unit for the exponential decay equation.
Nevertheless, when there are many identical atoms decaying (right boxes), the law of large numbers suggests that it is a very good approximation to say that half of the atoms remain after one half-life.
In other words, the probability of a radioactive atom decaying within its half-life is 50%.
For example, the image on the right is a simulation of many identical atoms undergoing radioactive decay.
There are various simple exercises that demonstrate probabilistic decay, for example involving flipping coins or running a statistical computer program.
The decay of many physical quantities is not exponential—for example, the evaporation of water from a puddle, or (often) the chemical reaction of a molecule.
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In such cases, the half-life is defined the same way as before: as the time elapsed before half of the original quantity has decayed.