Carbon dating decay

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Over time, carbon decays in predictable ways. And with the help of radiocarbon dating, researchers can use that decay as a kind of clock that allows them to peer into the past and determine absolute dates for everything from wood to food, pollen, poop, and even dead animals and humans. While plants are alive, they take in carbon through photosynthesis. Humans and other animals ingest the carbon through plant-based foods or by eating other animals that eat plants. Carbon is made up of three isotopes.

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Radioactive material gets a bad rap, what with radiation and fallout and nuclear waste and all. But it offers some practical uses. One of the coolest OK, maybe the coolest is using radioactive carbon to determine the age of old bones or plants. To understand this, you must first understand radioactivity and decay. When an element undergoes radioactive decay, it creates radiation and turns into some other element. Of course, the best way to understand something is to model it, because the last thing you want to do at home is experiment with something radioactive.

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Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50, years. Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Carbon has a large number of stable isotopes. All carbon atoms contain six protons and six electrons, but the different isotopes have different numbers of neutrons. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere has not changed in thousands of years. Even though it decays into nitrogen, new carbon is always being formed when cosmic rays hit atoms high in the atmosphere. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and animals eat plants.

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