When we speak of the element Carbon, we most often refer to the most naturally abundant stable isotope 12 C. Although 12 C is definitely essential to life, its unstable sister isotope 14 C has become of extreme importance to the science world. Radiocarbon Dating is the process of determining the age of a sample by examining the amount of 14 C remaining against the known half-life, 5, years. The reason this process works is because when organisms are alive they are constantly replenishing their 14 C supply through respiration, providing them with a constant amount of the isotope. However, when an organism ceases to exist, it no longer takes in carbon from its environment and the unstable 14 C isotope begins to decay.
Nuclear Chemistry: Half-Lives and Radioactive Dating - dummies
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One example of radioactive dating is carbon dating. Carbon dating can be used on anything that was once alive, be it plant or animal. A couple of wonderful examples have been in the news in the past years. When bone fragments are found that are believed to be human or human-like, carbon dating is often used to determine the approximate age of the remains.