Half-life n. (Physics) The time it takes for one-half of a substance decaying in a first-order reaction to be destroyed. For radioactive substances, it is the time required for one-half of the initial amount of the radioactive isotope to decay. The half-lifeis a measure of the rate of the reaction being observed. For processes that are true first-order processes, such as radioactive decay, the half-life is independent of the quantity of material present, and it is thus a constant. The time it takes for one-half the remaining quantity of a radioactive isotope to decay will be the same regardless of how far the decay process has advanced. Some chemical reactions are also first order, and may be characterized as having a half-life. However, for chemical reactions the half-life will depend upon temperature and in some cases other environmental conditions, whereas for radioactive isotopes the rate of decay is largely independent of the environment.
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