Not only that, we top up our carbon-14 levels every time we eat.
And plants top up their radioactive carbon every time they turn carbon dioxide to food during photosynthesis.
It decays with a half life of 5700 years into nitrogen 14 and electron and an electron antineutreno. So for that reason, every living thing that is interacting with its environment is expected to have this natural abundance of carbon 14. But when something dies, now it's not interacting with the environment anymore. We know that the amount at time t is equal to the initial amount times one half to the time over the half life, alright?
So this is just an ordinary beta decay process and this carbon fourteen's half life is way way way too short for any carbon to just kind of exist naturally in the atmosphere, you'd think, not quite right. So that mean that 1.3 times 10 to the -12 carbon 14 atoms, exist for each and every carbon 12 atom in nature. So you'd think that if you got this 1.3 times 10 to the -12 carbon 14 atoms for each carbon 12 atom at some time, well then 5700 years later, half of the carbon 14 will have decayed. But in fact what happens is, cosmic rays from the sun interact with the upper atmosphere and they actually create carbon 14, at this rate so that in equilibrium, 1.3 times 10 to the -12 carbon 14 atoms will exist for every carbon 12 atom. It's no longer replenishing its carbon 14 supply. This is our standard radioactive decay formula, always works.
Everything from the fibres in the Shroud of Turin to Otzi the Iceman has had their birthday determined the carbon-14 way. There's plenty of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen in living things too, but carbon's got something none of them do — a radioactive isotope that can take thousands of years to decay.
This technique works well for materials up to around 50,000 years old.
Each radioactive isotope decays by a fixed amount, and this amount is called the half-life.
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.