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decay constant n.
Symbol λ The constant ratio for the number of atoms of a radionuclide that decay in a given period of time compared with the total number of atoms of the same kind present at the beginning of that period. Also called disintegration constant, radioactive constant.
proportionality between the size of a population of radioactive atoms and the rate at which the population decreases because of radioactive decay. Suppose N is the size of a population of radioactive atoms at a given time t, and dN is the amount by which the population decreases in time dt; then the rate of change is given by the equation dN/dt=lambdaN, where lambda is the decay constant. Integration of this equation yields N=N0elambdat, where N0 is the size of an initial population of radioactive atoms at time t=0. This shows that the population decays exponentially at a rate that depends on the decay constant. The time required for half of the original population of radioactive atoms to decay is called the half-life. The relationship between the half-life, T1/2, and the decay constant is given by T1/2=0.693/lambda.