- Half-life Half"-life` (h[aum]f"l[imac]f`), 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. [PJC]
The Collaborative International Dictionary of English. 2000.