Carbon Dating Essay

2516 words - 11 pages

Carbon dating is a scientific technique in which scientists and archaeologists are able to estimate the age of materials such as wood through the decay of Carbon-14. This process can allow scientists to determine the age of such items up to about 58,000 and 62,000 years before the present time. Carbon dating was first discovered by Willard Libby in 1949 in which he was awarded a noble peace prize. Prior to this introduction, carbon dating has been used across the world to determine the age of old artefacts such as paintings or bones.

The atmosphere is constantly being bombarded by comic rays that causes protons, neutrons and other particles to be scattered throughout the atmosphere. This ...view middle of the document...

The mass of protons and neutrons are equal and contribute to the overall weight of an atom. Electrons are much smaller with a mass of about 0.0005 and do not contribute anything to the overall mass of an atom.

All carbon atoms contain 6 protons in their nucleus. The atomic mass of an atom is determined by the number of neutrons plus protons, giving an overall number of 12. The Carbon-14 isotope is chemically identical to ordinary carbon although the number of neutrons differs. Carbon-14 contains 2 extra neutrons, giving a total of 8 compared to the normal 6. This affects the mass making it now 14. With the extra neutrons, the nucleus becomes unstable and radioactive. Carbon-14 is an isotope of the element carbon. Its nucleus contains 6 protons and 8 neutrons. The radioactivity and stability of a nucleus is determined by the ratio between neutrons and protons. Carbon-12 is stable due to the six positively charged protons balancing out the negative charge of electrons. Protons hold a positive charge whilst neutrons are neutrally charged. When the ratio between these sub atomic particles is too large or too small, the nucleus becomes unstable. The ratio between neutrons and protons in this isotope is too large, making the nucleus unstable and therefor radioactive. The ratio is too large due to their being 2 more neutrons to protons. This results in the isotope emitting a beta particle, causing Carbon-14 to be converted into nitrogen-14.

2. Nuclear fission is the process in which the nucleus of a particle is splits into smaller parts, resulting in lighter nuclei. As a result of a fission reaction, a large amount of energy is released, as well as neutrons and photons in the form of gamma rays.

Nuclear fusion is the process in which two or more nuclei collide to form a new, heavier nucleus. This reaction is only successful if there are high temperatures and large amounts of pressure when the nuclei collide. As a result of this, particles such as protons and neutrons are released.

Alpha decay is a form of radioactive decay where an atom’s nucleus releases an alpha particle and is transformed into an atom with a mass number of 4 less and atomic number 2 less. An alpha particle is formed by the combination of two protons and two neutrons in a helium nucleus. As a result, 2 protons and 2 neutrons are released from a nucleus when an alpha particle is emitted.

Beta decay is the process in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom’s nucleus. Beta particles are high energy and high speed electrons that are released from certain radioactive nuclei. These particles are forms of ionising radiation, referred to as beta rays. In this reaction, a neutron is changed into a proton as well as the product of an electron. The proton remains in the nucleus with the electron leaving the atom as a beta particle. The nucleus therefore now has one more proton and one less neutron, resulting in the mass number staying the same whilst the atomic number is decreased...

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