# 4.2.7 Random Nature of Radioactive Decay

### Random Nature of Radioactive Decay

• It cannot be predicted when a particular unstable nucleus will decay
• This is because radioactive decay is a random process, this means that:
• There is an equal probability of any nucleus decaying
• It cannot be known which particular nucleus will decay next
• It cannot be known at what time a particular nucleus will decay
• The rate of decay is unaffected by the surrounding conditions
• It is only possible to estimate the probability of a nuclei decaying in a given time period
• For example, a researcher might take some readings of background radiation
• If the researcher reset the counter to zero, waited one minute and then took the count
reading and repeated the procedure, they might obtain results such as:

32    11    25    16    28

• This happens because of the randomness of radioactive decay

#### Dice Analogy

• An analogy is a way of understanding an idea by using a different but similar situation
• Rolling dice is a good analogy of radioactive decay because it is similar to the random nature of radioactive decay A dice roll is a random process because you don’t know when you will roll a particular value. However, you can determine the probability of a particular result

• Imagine someone rolling a dice and trying to get a ‘6’
• Each time they roll, they do not know what the result will be
• But they know there is a 1/6 probability that it will be a 6
• If they were to roll the dice 1000 times, it would be very likely that they would roll a 6 at least once
• The random nature of radioactive decay can be demonstrated by observing the count rate of a Geiger-Muller (GM) tube
• When a GM tube is placed near a radioactive source, the counts are found to be irregular and cannot be predicted
• Each count represents a decay of an unstable nucleus
• These fluctuations in count rate on the GM tube provide evidence for the randomness of radioactive decay The variation of count rate over time of a sample radioactive gas. The fluctuations show the randomness of radioactive decay ### Author: Katie

Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.
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