Carbon dating is a technique used to determine the approximate age of once-living materials. It is based on the decay rate of the radioactive carbon isotope 14 C, a form of carbon taken in by all living organisms while they are alive. Before the twentieth century, determining the age of ancient fossils or artifacts was considered the job of paleontologists or paleontologists, not nuclear physicists. By comparing the placement of objects with the age of the rock and silt layers in which they were found, scientists could usually make a general estimate of their age. However, many objects were found in caves, frozen in ice , or in other areas whose ages were not known; in these cases, it was clear that a method for dating the actual object was necessary. In , the American chemist Bertram Boltwood — proposed that rocks containing radioactive uranium could be dated by measuring the amount of lead in the sample.
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. Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons. This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.
Radioactive Decay of Carbon-14
This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature. C is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C C is produced in the upper atmosphere when nitrogen N is altered through the effects of cosmic radiation bombardment a proton is displaced by a neutron effectively changing the nitrogen atom into a carbon isotope. The new isotope is called "radiocarbon" because it is radioactive, though it is not dangerous.
In this section we will explore the use of carbon dating to determine the age of fossil remains. Carbon is a key element in biologically important molecules. During the lifetime of an organism, carbon is brought into the cell from the environment in the form of either carbon dioxide or carbon-based food molecules such as glucose; then used to build biologically important molecules such as sugars, proteins, fats, and nucleic acids. These molecules are subsequently incorporated into the cells and tissues that make up living things.