In this section we will explore the use of carbon dating to determine the age of fossil remains. Carbon is a key element in biologically important molecules. During the lifetime of an organism, carbon is brought into the cell from the environment in the form of either carbon dioxide or carbon-based food molecules such as glucose; then used to build biologically important molecules such as sugars, proteins, fats, and nucleic acids. These molecules are subsequently incorporated into the cells and tissues that make up living things. Therefore, organisms from a single-celled bacteria to the largest of the dinosaurs leave behind carbon-based remains.
Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?
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Carbon dating , also known as radiocarbon dating, is a scientific procedure used to date organic matter. It depends upon the radioactive decay of carbon C 14 , an unstable isotope of carbon which is continually synthesized in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays. Plants take up atmospheric C 14 for as long as they live, through the process of photosynthesis. Animals take up atmospheric C 14 indirectly, by eating plants or by eating other animals that eat plants. Measuring the proportion of C 14 as opposed to C 12 remaining in a sample then tells us how long ago the sample stopped taking up C 14 — in other words, how long ago the thing died.
Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and thereafter the amount of 14 C it contains begins to decrease as the 14 C undergoes radioactive decay.