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Posted by / 29-Jun-2017 11:00

The vast majority of carbon atoms, about 98.89%, are C12. And since carbon is an essential element in living organisms, C14 appears in all terrestrial (landbound) living organisms in the same proportions it appears in the atmosphere. Animals and fungi get C14 from the plant or animal tissue they eat for food. The C14 already in the organism doesn't stop decaying, so as time goes on there is less and less C14 left in the organism's remains.

The decay rate and therefore the half-life are fixed characteristics of an isotope. That's the first axiom of radiometric dating techniques: the half-life of a given isotope is a constant.

I found several good sources, but none that seemed both complete enough to stand alone and simple enough for a nongeologist to understand them.

Thus this essay, which is my attempt at producing such a source.

Because it's a statistical measurement, there's always a margin of error in the age figure, but if the procedure is done properly, the margin is very small. We must know the original quantity of the parent isotope in order to date our sample radiometrically. In order to do so, we need an isotope that's part of a mineral compound. Because there's a basic law of chemistry that says "Chemical processes like those that form minerals can't distinguish between different isotopes of the same element." This is because an element's chemical behavior depends only on the number of electrons it has, which is the same as its number of protons.

Obviously, the major question here is "how much of the isotope was originally present in our sample? So to a chemical process, U235 and U238 are identical.

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