Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Variation in radioactive decay rates

  1. Feb 19, 2013 #1
    I would like to hear opinions on the variation in decay rates as described by Fischbach and coworkers and how (if at all) this will affect radioemtric dating. Does this phenomenon indeed exist or is it the result of errors in experimental technique?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Last edited: Feb 19, 2013
  4. Feb 19, 2013 #3
    Thanks! Any other comments will be appreciated.
  5. Feb 19, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    FAQ: Do rates of nuclear decay depend on environmental factors?

    There is one environmental effect that has been scientifically well established for a long time. In the process of electron capture, a proton in the nucleus combines with an inner-shell electron to produce a neutron and a neutrino. This effect does depend on the electronic environment, and in particular, the process cannot happen if the atom is completely ionized.

    Other claims of environmental effects on decay rates are crank science, often quoted by creationists in their attempts to discredit evolutionary and geological time scales.

    He et al. (He 2007) claim to have detected a change in rates of beta decay of as much as 11% when samples are rotated in a centrifuge, and say that the effect varies asymmetrically with clockwise and counterclockwise rotation. He believes that there is a mysterious energy field that has both biological and nuclear effects, and that it relates to circadian rhythms. The nuclear effects were not observed when the experimental conditions were reproduced by Ding et al. [Ding 2009]

    Jenkins and Fischbach (2008) claim to have observed effects on alpha decay rates at the 10^-3 level, correlated with an influence from the sun. They proposed that their results could be tested more dramatically by looking for changes in the rate of alpha decay in radioisotope thermoelectric generators aboard space probes. Such an effect turned out not to exist (Cooper 2009). Undeterred by their theory's failure to pass their own proposed test, they have gone on to publish even kookier ideas, such as a neutrino-mediated effect from solar flares, even though solar flares are a surface phenomenon, whereas neutrinos come from the sun's core. An independent study found no such link between flares and decay rates (Parkhomov 2010a). Laboratory experiments[Lindstrom 2010] have also placed limits on the sensitivity of radioactive decay to neutrino flux that rule out a neutrino-mediated effect at a level orders of magnitude less than what would be required in order to explain the variations claimed in [Jenkins 2008]. Despite this, Jenkins and Fischbach continue to speculate about a neutrino effect in [Sturrock 2012]; refusal to deal with contrary evidence is a hallmark of kook science. They admit that variations shown in their 2012 work "may be due in part to environmental influences," but don't seem to want to acknowledge that if the strength of these influences in unknown, they may explain the entire claimed effect, not just part of it.

    Jenkins and Fischbach made further claims in 2010 based on experiments done decades ago by other people, so that Jenkins and Fischbach have no first-hand way of investigating possible sources of systematic error. Other attempts to reproduce the result are also plagued by systematic errors of the same size as the claimed effect. For example, an experiment by Parkhomov (2010b) shows a Fourier power spectrum in which a dozen other peaks are nearly as prominent as the claimed yearly variation.

    Cardone et al. claim to have observed variations in the rate of alpha decay of thorium induced by 20 kHz ultrasound, and claim that this alpha decay occurs without the emission of gamma rays. Ericsson et al. have pointed out multiple severe problems with Cardone's experiments.

    In agreement with theory, high-precision experimental tests show no detectable temperature-dependence in the rates of electron capture[Goodwin 2009] and alpha decay.[Gurevich 2008]

    He YuJian et al., Science China 50 (2007) 170.

    YouQian Ding et al., Science China 52 (2009) 690.

    Jenkins and Fischbach (2008), http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3283v1, Astropart.Phys.32:42-46,2009

    Jenkins and Fischbach (2009), http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3156, Astropart.Phys.31:407-411,2009

    Jenkins and Fischbach (2010), http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.3318

    Parkhomov 2010a, http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.2295

    Parkhomov 2010b, http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.4174

    Cooper (2009), http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.4248, Astropart.Phys.31:267-269,2009

    Lindstrom et al. (2010), http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.5071 , Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A, 622 (2010) 93-96

    Sturrock 2012, http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.0205

    F. Cardone, R. Mignani, A. Petrucci, Phys. Lett. A 373 (2009) 1956

    Ericsson et al., Comment on "Piezonuclear decay of thorium," Phys. Lett. A 373 (2009) 1956, http://arxiv4.library.cornell.edu/abs/0907.0623 [Broken]

    Ericsson et al., http://arxiv.org/abs/0909.2141

    Goodwin, Golovko, Iacob and Hardy, "Half-life of the electron-capture decay of 97Ru: Precision measurement shows no temperature dependence" in Physical Review C (2009), 80, 045501, http://arxiv.org/abs/0910.4338

    Gurevich et al., "The effect of metallic environment and low temperature on the 253Es α decay rate," Bull. Russ. Acad. Sci. 72 (2008) 315.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook