Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.Over the years, carbon 14 dating has also found applications in geology, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology, and even biomedicine.Within the nucleus, we find neutrons and protons; but for now, let's just focus on the neutrons.These neutrons can become unstable, and when they do, they release energy and undergo decay. Radioactivity occurs when the nucleus contains an excess amount of neutrons.American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.
But there are many misconceptions about how radiocarbon works and how reliable a technique it is.
Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.
It is rapidly oxidized in air to form carbon dioxide and enters the global carbon cycle.
When an atom varies in the number of neutrons, the variation is called an isotope. During radioactivity, the unstable isotope breaks down and changes into a different substance.
A new, more stable isotope, called the decay or daughter product, takes its place.