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The amount of carbon-14 gradually decreases through radioactive beta decay with a half-life of 5,730 years.So, scientists can estimate the age of the fossil by looking at the level of decay in its radioactive carbon.Recall that atoms are the basic building blocks of matter.

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The technique used is called carbon dating and in this lesson we will learn what this is and how it is used. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. In the late 1940s, an American physical chemist named Willard Libby first developed a method to measure radioactivity of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope.

Note that, contrary to a popular misconception, carbon dating is not used to date rocks at millions of years old.

Before we get into the details of how radiometric dating methods are used, we need to review some preliminary concepts from chemistry.

Scientists use a technique called radiometric dating to estimate the ages of rocks, fossils, and the earth.

Many people have been led to believe that radiometric dating methods have proved the earth to be billions of years old.

Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in 1960.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contains a constant amount of carbon-14, and as long as an organism is living, the amount of carbon-14 inside it is the same as the atmosphere.

The half-life is the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay.

For example, if you start off with 1000 radioactive nuclei with a half-life of 10 days, you would have 500 left after 10 days; you would have 250 left after 20 days (2 half-lives); and so on.

The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.

The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.