So we are studying Atomic & Nuclear Physics – one of the most exciting areas of modern physics, and almost certainly one of the sciences that has most affected human history in the 20th century. It is one of the areas of physics that the public knows the least about, despite a great deal of interest. Even popular culture deals with nuclear power – from “The Simpsons” to “Battlestar Galactica”, from Iron Maiden’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns to Andy Warhols “Atomic Bomb”, every form of human expression from highest art to puerile comedy, from heavy metal to science fiction – the idea is everywhere.
I have written many posts on this blog about nuclear power (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (you may want to pay particular attention to the comment streams…). Not only is nuclear power an important part of our studies, it is essential that all people who live in Australia are aware of the risks and rewards associated with nuclear energy, because like it or not, Australia has a nuclear future. I have written a specific set of class notes to supplement your textbook. You must download them, print them and bring them to class.
This post is specifically about the concept of half-life (no, not the game). Half life is the name given to the process of atomic decay, and particularly the rate at which particles undergo the decay process. Half life is an interesting process – and works very differently from other types of decay.
Take an example that is probably more familiar – fruit. If you have a bag of apples, what happens over time?