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The rule is that a sample is safe when its radioactivity has dropped below detection limits. So, if radioactive iodine-131 (which has a half-life of 8 days) is injected into the body to treat thyroid cancer, it’ll be “gone” in 10 half-lives, or 80 days.

This stuff is important to know when using radioactive isotopes as medical tracers, which are taken into the body to allow doctors to trace a pathway or find a blockage, or in cancer treatments.

This has to do with figuring out the age of ancient things.

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For nonliving substances, scientists use other isotopes, such as potassium-40.Scientists look at half-life decay rates of radioactive isotopes to estimate when a particular atom might decay.