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half-life

or half life, half·life

[ haf-lahyf, hahf- ]
/ ˈhæfˌlaɪf, ˈhɑf- /
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noun, plural half-lives [haf-lahyvz, hahf-]. /ˈhæfˌlaɪvz, ˈhɑf-/.
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.
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Also called half-life period.

Origin of half-life

First recorded in 1905–10; half + life
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use half-life in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for half-life

half-life

noun
the time taken for half of the atoms in a radioactive material to undergo decaySymbol: 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

Scientific definitions for half-life

half-life
[ hăflīf′ ]

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 © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for half-life

half-life

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.

notes for half-life

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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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