# Carbon-14 dating

Carbon-14 dating, also known as radiocarbon dating, is one of the most widely used methods for determining the age of organic materials. It is based on the fact that carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon, is present in all living things and decays at a predictable rate over time. By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left in an organic sample, scientists can calculate how long ago it was living.

## Discovery of Carbon-14

Carbon-14 was first discovered by Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben in 1940 at the University of California, Berkeley. They were studying cosmic rays and found that carbon-14 was being produced in the atmosphere. This led to the development of radiocarbon dating as a method for determining the age of organic materials.

## How Carbon-14 Dating Works

Carbon-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays collide with nitrogen atoms. These collisions cause a neutron to be ejected from the nitrogen atom, which then combines with a nearby oxygen molecule to form carbon-14.

When an organism dies, it stops taking in carbon-14 from the environment. The carbon-14 that was present in its body at the time of death begins to decay at a predictable rate. Scientists can measure the amount of carbon-14 left in a sample and use this information to determine how long ago the organism died.

### Half-Life of Carbon-14

Carbon-14 has a half-life of about 5,700 years. This means that it takes 5,700 years for half of the carbon-14 in a sample to decay. After another 5,700 years, half of the remaining carbon-14 will have decayed, and so on.

### Measuring Carbon-14

To measure the amount of carbon-14 in a sample, scientists use a technique called liquid scintillation counting. The sample is dissolved in a liquid scintillator, which emits light when struck by radiation. The amount of light emitted is proportional to the amount of carbon-14 in the sample.

### Calibration

Although carbon-14 dating is a reliable method for determining the age of organic materials, there are some limitations. One limitation is that the rate of carbon-14 production in the atmosphere has not been constant over time. This means that the amount of carbon-14 in a sample may not be directly proportional to its age.

To correct for this, scientists use a process called calibration. This involves comparing the measured amount of carbon-14 in a sample to the amount predicted based on known atmospheric concentrations. By making these adjustments, scientists can obtain more accurate age estimates.

## Applications of Carbon-14 Dating

Carbon-14 dating has been used to determine the age of a wide range of organic materials, including fossils, archaeological artifacts, and ancient documents.

### Fossils

One of the most common uses of carbon-14 dating is to determine the age of fossils. By dating the rocks and sediments in which the fossils are found, scientists can estimate their age. Carbon-14 dating can then be used to confirm or refine these estimates.

### Archaeological Artifacts

Carbon-14 dating has also been used to determine the age of archaeological artifacts such as pottery, tools, and buildings. By dating these objects, archaeologists can gain insight into the cultures and societies that created them.

### Ancient Documents

Carbon-14 dating has even been used to date ancient documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin. By dating the materials used to create these documents, scientists can establish their age and authenticity.

### Carbon-14 Dating

Carbon-14 dating is a powerful tool for determining the age of organic materials. By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left in a sample, scientists can calculate how long ago it was living. This technique has been used to date everything from fossils to ancient documents and has provided valuable insights into our planet's history.