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This study investigates students' misconceptions about radioactivity, radioactive decay, and half-life. Individual demonstration interviews and open-response and multiple-choice conceptual tests administered to students from a wide range of science backgrounds show that they are often unable to differentiate between the ideas of irradiation and contamination, and that many of their reasoning difficulties stem from their inaccurate mental models regarding the atom. The author's research indicates that these misconceptions are well-positioned to interfere with students' understanding of how half-life is used to determine geologic time.
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