Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50, years. Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon. Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons. This means that although they are very similar chemically, they have different masses.
This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature. C is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C C is produced in the upper atmosphere when nitrogen N is altered through the effects of cosmic radiation bombardment a proton is displaced by a neutron effectively changing the nitrogen atom into a carbon isotope. The new isotope is called "radiocarbon" because it is radioactive, though it is not dangerous. It is naturally unstable and so it will spontaneously decay back into N after a period of time. It takes about 5, years for half of a sample of radiocarbon to decay back into nitrogen. It takes another 5, for half of the remainder to decay, and then another 5, for half of what's left then to decay and so on.
Of all the isotopic dating methods in use today, the uranium-lead method is the oldest and, when done carefully, the most reliable. Unlike any other method, uranium-lead has a natural cross-check built into it that shows when nature has tampered with the evidence. Uranium comes in two common isotopes with atomic weights of and we'll call them U and U. Both are unstable and radioactive, shedding nuclear particles in a cascade that doesn't stop until they become lead Pb. The two cascades are different—U becomes Pb and U becomes Pb.
Another approach to describing reaction rates is based on the time required for the concentration of a reactant to decrease to one-half its initial value. If two reactions have the same order, the faster reaction will have a shorter half-life, and the slower reaction will have a longer half-life. The half-life of a first-order reaction under a given set of reaction conditions is a constant.