How does radiocarbon dating work

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There are many carbon atoms in our environment. The vast majority of these are 12 C pronounced "c twelve" , the stable isotope of carbon. However, cosmic radiation constantly collides with atoms in the upper atmosphere. Part of the result of these collisions is the production of radiocarbon 14 C, pronounced "c fourteen" , carbon atoms which are chemically the same as stable carbon, but have two extra neutrons.
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How Does Radiocarbon-14 Dating Work?

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Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?

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. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. 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. Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.
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Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants.
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For example, every person is hit by about half a million cosmic rays every hour. It is not uncommon for a cosmic ray to collide with an atom in the atmosphere, creating a secondary cosmic ray in the form of an energetic neutron, and for these energetic neutrons to collide with nitrogen atoms. When the neutron collides, a nitrogen seven protons, seven neutrons atom turns into a carbon atom six protons, eight neutrons and a hydrogen atom one proton, zero neutrons. Carbon is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5, years. For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.
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