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A process for determining the age of an object by measuring the amount of a given radioactive material it contains.
If one knows how much of this radioactive material was present initially in the object (by determining how much of the material has decayed), and one knows the half-life of the material, one can deduce the age of the object.
The only exceptions are nuclides that decay by the process of electron capture, such as beryllium-7, strontium-85, and zirconium-89, whose decay rate may be affected by local electron density.
For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.
The object's approximate age can then be figured out using the known rate of decay of the isotope.
This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present.
The basic equation of radiometric dating requires that neither the parent nuclide nor the daughter product can enter or leave the material after its formation.
Among the best-known techniques are radiocarbon dating, potassium–argon dating and uranium–lead dating.
By allowing the establishment of geological timescales, it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change.