You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree.
Free 5-day trial Ever wondered how scientists know the age of old bones in an ancient site or how old a scrap of linen is?
The technique used is called carbon dating, and in this lesson we will learn what this is and how it is used. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. In the late 1940s, an American physical chemist named Willard Libby first developed a method to measure radioactivity of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope.
Radiocarbon dating has been used extensively since its discovery.
Examples of use include analyzing charcoal from prehistoric caves, ancient linen and wood, and mummified remains.
For the record, a beta-particle is a specific type of nuclear decay. Image 1 shows carbon-14 production by high energy neutrons hitting nitrogen-14 atoms, while in Image 2, carbon-14 naturally decomposes through beta-particle production.
Notice that the nitrogen-14 atom is recreated and goes back into the cycle.Once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 reduces by the fixed half-life - or the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay - of 5,730 years, and can be measured by scientists for up to 10 half-lives.Measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 remaining makes it possible to work out how old the artifact is, whether it's a fossilized skeleton or a magnificent piece of artwork.Radioactive carbon-14 is continually formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen-14 atoms.After it forms, carbon-14 naturally decomposes, with a half-life of 5,730 years, through beta-particle decay.Scientists often use the value of 10 half-lives to indicate when a radioactive isotope will be gone, or rather, when a very negligible amount is still left.