A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide.
This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay (emission of alpha particles) and beta decay (electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture).
For instance, carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years.
After an organism has been dead for 60,000 years, so little carbon-14 is left that accurate dating cannot be established.
On the other hand, the concentration of carbon-14 falls off so steeply that the age of relatively young remains can be determined precisely to within a few decades.
If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusion, setting the isotopic "clock" to zero.
Among the best-known techniques are radiocarbon dating, potassium–argon dating and uranium–lead dating.
By allowing the establishment of geological timescales, it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change.
This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved.For most radioactive nuclides, the half-life depends solely on nuclear properties and is essentially a constant.It is not affected by external factors such as temperature, pressure, chemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field.Precision is enhanced if measurements are taken on multiple samples from different locations of the rock body.Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron. In uranium–lead dating, the concordia diagram is used which also decreases the problem of nuclide loss.