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Name: Cheryl G.
Status: educator
Grade: other
Location: IL
Country: N/A
Date: September 2006

Question:
I understand what an isotope is and that an atom of one element can change to another by losing particles/energy but how does C14 gain extra neutrons? From the decay of a larger atom like N? I have a minor in chemistry so please be as specific as you without using mathematical formulas (math is my weak subject).



Replies:
Carbon (14) is produced from nitrogen by high energy radiation in the upper atmosphere. See the web site:

http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/classes/bio302/Pages/CarbonDatingBack.html

with only a few of the "formulas" you fear. The original concept that won a Nobel Prize for Harold Urey turns out is only a first approximation. This does not detract from the value of the concept but only adds modifications to the original concept. This happens in all laws of Nature we discover. Almost nothing is as simple as the first statement of the principle. Some proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) try to discredit carbon 14 dating entirely because it requires modifications. This is disingenuous, because all scientific laws and theories must be able to be "falsifiable" that is require "updating". That is the nature of physical science. Today the "time line" measured by carbon 14 dating is subject to corrections based on other data and measurements, so that the age is determined by a set of various data, not all due to radioactive decay. As a result the age of a specimen is based on several approaches. This makes the age estimate more accurate since it must fit several methods of determination.

Vince Calder



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