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or half life, halflife

[haf-lahyf, hahf-] /ˈhæfˌlaɪf, ˈhɑf-/
noun, plural half-lives
[haf-lahyvz, hahf-] /ˈhæfˌlaɪvz, ˈhɑf-/ (Show IPA)
Physics. the time required for one half the atoms of a given amount of a radioactive substance to disintegrate.
Also called biological half-life. Pharmacology. the time required for the activity of a substance taken into the body to lose one half its initial effectiveness.
Informal. a brief period during which something flourishes before dying out.
Also called half-life period.
Origin of half-life
First recorded in 1905-10; half + life Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for half-life
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She places herself as his equal—as the other half, without which his half-life cannot be complete.

  • In the compartments on the ceiling, the figures are the size of life—in those round the walls, half-life size.

  • The half-life must find its mate or, after a few brief days, it dies, leaving its line extinct.

  • The latter has a half-life of only 8.8 minutes and so counting must begin soon after the irradiation.

    The Atomic Fingerprint Bernard Keisch
  • Now the old problem of half-life is taking its toll, and we cant even hope to keep up with the birth rate any more.

    They Also Serve Donald E. Westlake
  • It is a suppression of the great lower centers, and a living a sort of half-life, almost entirely from the upper centers.

  • And, finally, Moglaut had warned that the compact power unit pocketed on the left breast had a half-life of only thirteen years.

    Zero Data Charles Saphro
  • By taking such an attitude to the past we should only fall into the half-will and half-life common to an age of decadence.

British Dictionary definitions for half-life


the time taken for half of the atoms in a radioactive material to undergo decay τ
the time required for half of a quantity of radioactive material absorbed by a living tissue or organism to be naturally eliminated (biological half-life) or removed by both elimination and decay (effective half-life)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for half-life

also halflife, half life, 1864, with meaning "unsatisfactory way of living;" the sense in physics, "amount of time it takes half a given amount of radioactivity to decay" is first attested 1907.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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half-life in Medicine

half-life n.

  1. The time required for half the nuclei of a specific radionuclide or radioactive substance to undergo radioactive decay. Also called physical half-life.

  2. The time required for half the quantity of a drug or other substance deposited in a living organism to be metabolized or eliminated by normal biological processes. Also called biological half-life.

  3. The time required for the radioactivity of material taken in by or administered to an organism to be reduced to half its initial value by a combination of biological elimination processes and radioactive decay. Also called effective half-life.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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half-life in Science
The average time needed for half the nuclei in a sample of a radioactive substance to undergo radioactive decay. The half-life of a substance does not equal half of its full duration of radioactivity. For example, if one starts with 100 grams of radium 229, whose half-life is 4 minutes, then after 4 minutes only 50 grams of radium will be left in the sample, after 8 minutes 25 grams will be left, after 12 minutes 12.5 grams will be left, and so on.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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half-life in Culture

half-life definition

In physics, a fixed time required for half the radioactive nuclei in a substance to decay. Half-lives of radioactive substances can range from fractions of a second to billions of years, and they are always the same for a given nucleus, regardless of temperature or other conditions. If an object contains a pound of a radioactive substance with a half-life of fifty years, at the end of that time there will be half a pound of the radioactive substance left undecayed in the object. After another fifty years, a quarter-pound will be left undecayed, and so on.

Note: Scientists can estimate the age of an object, such as a rock, by carefully measuring the amounts of decayed and undecayed nuclei in the object. Comparing that to the half-life of the nuclei tells when they started to decay and, therefore, how old the object is. (See radioactive dating.)
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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