So let me make it clear. So it bumps off one of the protons. So instead of seven protons we now have six protons. But this number 14 doesn't go down to 13 because it replaces it with itself. So this still stays at And now since it only has six protons, this is no longer nitrogen, by definition. This is now carbon. And that proton that was bumped off just kind of gets emitted. So then let me just do that in another color. And a proton that's just flying around, you could call that hydrogen 1. And it can gain an electron some ways. If it doesn't gain an electron, it's just a hydrogen ion, a positive ion, either way, or a hydrogen nucleus.
But this process-- and once again, it's not a typical process, but it happens every now and then-- this is how carbon forms. So this right here is carbon You can essentially view it as a nitrogen where one of the protons is replaced with a neutron. And what's interesting about this is this is constantly being formed in our atmosphere, not in huge quantities, but in reasonable quantities.
So let me write this down. And let me be very clear. Let's look at the periodic table over here. So carbon by definition has six protons, but the typical isotope, the most common isotope of carbon is carbon So carbon is the most common. So most of the carbon in your body is carbon But what's interesting is that a small fraction of carbon forms, and then this carbon can then also combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
And then that carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the rest of the atmosphere, into our oceans. It can be fixed by plants. When people talk about carbon fixation, they're really talking about using mainly light energy from the sun to take gaseous carbon and turn it into actual kind of organic tissue. And so this carbon, it's constantly being formed. It makes its way into oceans-- it's already in the air, but it completely mixes through the whole atmosphere-- and the air.
And then it makes its way into plants. And plants are really just made out of that fixed carbon, that carbon that was taken in gaseous form and put into, I guess you could say, into kind of a solid form, put it into a living form. That's what wood pretty much is. It gets put into plants, and then it gets put into the things that eat the plants. So that could be us. Now why is this even interesting? I've just explained a mechanism where some of our body, even though carbon is the most common isotope, some of our body, while we're living, gets made up of this carbon thing.
Well, the interesting thing is the only time you can take in this carbon is while you're alive, while you're eating new things.
Because as soon as you die and you get buried under the ground, there's no way for the carbon to become part of your tissue anymore because you're not eating anything with new carbon It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.
Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built. For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating. The development of accelerator mass spectrometry AMS dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard.
Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods. One of the most widely used is potassium—argon dating K—Ar dating. Potassium is a radioactive isotope of potassium that decays into argon The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is common in rocks and minerals, allowing many samples of geochronological or archeological interest to be dated. Argon , a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay. The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice.
K—Ar dating was used to calibrate the geomagnetic polarity time scale. Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated. This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item. Heating an item to degrees Celsius or higher releases the trapped electrons , producing light. This light can be measured to determine the last time the item was heated.
Radiation levels do not remain constant over time. Fluctuating levels can skew results — for example, if an item went through several high radiation eras, thermoluminescence will return an older date for the item. Many factors can spoil the sample before testing as well, exposing the sample to heat or direct light may cause some of the electrons to dissipate, causing the item to date younger. It cannot be used to accurately date a site on its own. However, it can be used to confirm the antiquity of an item.
Optically stimulated luminescence OSL dating constrains the time at which sediment was last exposed to light.
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During sediment transport, exposure to sunlight 'zeros' the luminescence signal. Upon burial, the sediment accumulates a luminescence signal as natural ambient radiation gradually ionises the mineral grains. Careful sampling under dark conditions allows the sediment to be exposed to artificial light in the laboratory which releases the OSL signal. The amount of luminescence released is used to calculate the equivalent dose De that the sediment has acquired since deposition, which can be used in combination with the dose rate Dr to calculate the age.
Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings , also known as growth rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year. So your proton number is going to change. Your atomic number is going to change. So it could either be beta decay, which would release electrons from the neutrons and turn them into protons. Or maybe positron emission turning protons into neutrons. But that's not what's relevant here. Let's say we have a collection of atoms.
And normally when we have any small amount of any element, we really have huge amounts of atoms of that element.
Half-life and carbon dating
And we've talked about moles and, you know, one gram of carbon I'm sorry, 12 grams-- 12 grams of carbon has one mole of carbon in it. One mole of carbon And what is one mole of carbon? This is a ginormous number. This is more than we can, than my head can really grasp around how large of a number this is.
And this is only when we have 12 grams. For example, one kilogram is about two pounds. So this is about, what? I want to say [? And pounds is obviously force. You get the idea.
On Earth, well anywhere, mass is invariant. This is not a tremendous amount. So with that said, let's go back to the question of how do we know if one of these guys are going to decay in some way. And maybe not carbon, maybe we're talking about carbon or something.
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How do we know that they're going to decay? And the answer is, you don't.
They all have some probability of the decaying. At any given moment, for a certain type of element or a certain type of isotope of an element, there's some probability that one of them will decay. That, you know, maybe this guy will decay this second. And then nothing happens for a long time, a long time, and all of a sudden two more guys decay. And so, like everything in chemistry, and a lot of what we're starting to deal with in physics and quantum mechanics, everything is probabilistic.
I mean, maybe if we really got in detail on the configurations of the nucleus, maybe we could get a little bit better in terms of our probabilities, but we don't know what's going on inside of the nucleus, so all we can do is ascribe some probabilities to something reacting. Now you could say, OK, what's the probability of any given molecule reacting in one second? Or you could define it that way. But we're used to dealing with things on the macro level, on dealing with, you know, huge amounts of atoms.
So what we do is we come up with terms that help us get our head around this.
UCSB Science Line
And one of those terms is the term half-life. And let me erase this stuff down here. So I have a description, and we're going to hopefully get an intuition of what half-life means. So I wrote a decay reaction right here, where you have carbon It decays into nitrogen And we could just do a little bit of review. You go from six protons to seven protons. Your mass changes the same.