STEM 141: How Scientists Date the Earth

Course Description

Introduction to the science behind the most common techniques used to date materials and events on Earth, including the strengths and limitations of each technique. Specifically, we will look at relative dating, dendrochronology, several radiometric dating methods, ice cores, and sediment cores. We will also discuss the relationship between the scientific theory and the Bible.

Catalog Description

An exploration of what science is and how science changed our understanding of who we are and our place in the universe. This question will be explored as it relates to a topic of a particular science discipline. One hour lecture and three hours lab each week. Liberal Arts.

Useful Information

Class Time                        TR 2:30-4:20 PM, Paine 118
Instructor                          Dr. Hoffman
Office Hours                     
MTWRF 10:00-11:00 AM, Paine 107


Course Syllabus
Term Paper Rubric


Relative Dating – Stratigraphy
Intro to Radioactive Decay; Accuracy, Precision, and Uncertainty
Nuclear Radiation: Atoms and Isotopes
Nuclear Radiation: Decay Simulation
Nuclear Radiation: Decay Rate
Mass Spectrometry – Magnetic Force
Mass Spectrometry
Can the Decay Constant Change?
Has the Decay Constant Changed?
Atomic Diffusion and Closure
Initial Condition
Radiometric Dating: Parent/Daughter
Radiometric Dating: Isochron Dating
Radiometric Dating: Step Annealing
Radiometric Dating: Concordia
Radiometric Dating with Cosmogenic Radionuclides: Sediment Cores
Radioactive Disequilibrium Methods
Radiometric Dating: Radiation Damage

Lab Activities

Rock Identification
Stratigraphic Puzzle
Tree Rings vs. Precipitation
Intro to Radiometric Dating
Uncertainty – Measuring Student Heights
Nuclear Radiation: Atoms and Isotopes
Cloud Chamber
Decay Rate Worksheet
Is it Radioactive?
Dice Game
Radioactive Half-life
Build a Rail Gun
Mass Spectrometry
Cathode Ray Tube
Does the Decay Constant Depend on Physical Parameters
Diffusion of Coloring into Paste
Diffusion Analysis
Exclusion: Purification via Freezing
Initial Condition
Age Determination via Daughter-Parent Ratios
Isochron Plot Intro
Isochron Plots of Real Data
Step-Annealing Analysis
Concordia Introduction
Concordia Plot of Artificial Data
Cosmogenic Nuclide Dating
Cosmogenic Nudlides and Sediment Cores
Dating via Disequilibrium