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Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.This is affected by solar activity and the earth’s magnetic field.Carbon is naturally in all living organisms and is replenished in the tissues by eating other organisms or by breathing air that contains carbon.At any particular time all living organisms have approximately the same ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in their tissues.As you learned in the previous page, carbon dating uses the half-life of Carbon-14 to find the approximate age of certain objects that are 40,000 years old or younger.

Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon-14 molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies.

When these energetic neutrons collide with a nitrogen-14 (seven protons, seven neutrons) atom it turns into a carbon-14 atom (six protons, eight neutrons) and a hydrogen atom (one proton, zero neutrons).

Since Nitrogen gas makes up about 78 percent of the Earth's air, by volume, a considerable amount of Carbon-14 is produced.

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Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50,000 years.