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Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon that has a half-life of 5,730 years. It occurs in small quantities in the carbon dioxide in the air we breathe. Most of the carbon on Earth is carbon-12, which has an atomic weight of 12 and is not radioactive. Scientists have determined the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the air for the last 60,000 years, using tree rings and other organic samples of known dates—although the ratio has changed slightly over the centuries.

As long as a plant or animal is alive, the ratio of the two isotopes of carbon in its body is close to the ratio in the atmosphere. When it dies, the carbon-14 in its body decays and is not replaced. By comparing the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in a decaying sample to the known ratio in the atmosphere, the date the plant or animal died can be approximated.

Since the half-life of carbon-14 is 5,730 years, the formula for the amount of carbon-14 remaining after t years is

A A 0 e ( ln ( 0.5 ) 5730 ) t

where

  • A is the amount of carbon-14 remaining
  • A 0 is the amount of carbon-14 when the plant or animal began decaying.

This formula is derived as follows:

         A = A 0 e k t The continuous growth formula .   0.5 A 0 = A 0 e k 5730 Substitute the half-life for  t  and  0.5 A 0  for  f ( t ) .        0.5 = e 5730 k Divide by  A 0 . ln ( 0.5 ) = 5730 k Take the natural log of both sides .           k = ln ( 0.5 ) 5730 Divide by the coefficient of  k .          A = A 0 e ( ln ( 0.5 ) 5730 ) t Substitute for  r  in the continuous growth formula .

To find the age of an object, we solve this equation for t :

t = ln ( A A 0 ) 0.000121

Out of necessity, we neglect here the many details that a scientist takes into consideration when doing carbon-14 dating, and we only look at the basic formula. The ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere is approximately 0.0000000001%. Let r be the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the organic artifact or fossil to be dated, determined by a method called liquid scintillation. From the equation A A 0 e 0.000121 t we know the ratio of the percentage of carbon-14 in the object we are dating to the percentage of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is r = A A 0 e 0.000121 t . We solve this equation for t , to get

t = ln ( r ) 0.000121

Given the percentage of carbon-14 in an object, determine its age.

  1. Express the given percentage of carbon-14 as an equivalent decimal, k .
  2. Substitute for k in the equation t = ln ( r ) 0.000121 and solve for the age, t .

Finding the age of a bone

A bone fragment is found that contains 20% of its original carbon-14. To the nearest year, how old is the bone?

We substitute 20 % = 0.20 for k in the equation and solve for t :

t = ln ( r ) 0.000121 Use the general form of the equation . = ln ( 0.20 ) 0.000121 Substitute for  r . 13301 Round to the nearest year .

The bone fragment is about 13,301 years old.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!
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Cesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years. If we begin with 200 mg of cesium-137, will it take more or less than 230 years until only 1 milligram remains?

less than 230 years, 229.3157 to be exact

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Calculating doubling time

For decaying quantities, we determined how long it took for half of a substance to decay. For growing quantities, we might want to find out how long it takes for a quantity to double. As we mentioned above, the time it takes for a quantity to double is called the doubling time    .

Questions & Answers

how to understand calculus?
Jenica Reply
Hey I am new to precalculus, and wanted clarification please on what sine is as I am floored by the terms in this app? I don't mean to sound stupid but I have only completed up to college algebra.
rachel Reply
I don't know if you are looking for a deeper answer or not, but the sine of an angle in a right triangle is the length of the opposite side to the angle in question divided by the length of the hypotenuse of said triangle.
Marco
can you give me sir tips to quickly understand precalculus. Im new too in that topic. Thanks
Jenica
if you remember sine, cosine, and tangent from geometry, all the relationships are the same but they use x y and r instead (x is adjacent, y is opposite, and r is hypotenuse).
Natalie
the standard equation of the ellipse that has vertices (0,-4)&(0,4) and foci (0, -15)&(0,15) it's standard equation is x^2 + y^2/16 =1 tell my why is it only x^2? why is there no a^2?
Reena Reply
what is foci?
Reena Reply
This term is plural for a focus, it is used for conic sections. For more detail or other math questions. I recommend researching on "Khan academy" or watching "The Organic Chemistry Tutor" YouTube channel.
Chris
how to determine the vertex,focus,directrix and axis of symmetry of the parabola by equations
Bryssen Reply
i want to sure my answer of the exercise
meena Reply
what is the diameter of(x-2)²+(y-3)²=25
Den Reply
how to solve the Identity ?
Barcenas Reply
what type of identity
Jeffrey
Confunction Identity
Barcenas
how to solve the sums
meena
hello guys
meena
For each year t, the population of a forest of trees is represented by the function A(t) = 117(1.029)t. In a neighboring forest, the population of the same type of tree is represented by the function B(t) = 86(1.025)t.
Shakeena Reply
by how many trees did forest "A" have a greater number?
Shakeena
32.243
Kenard
how solve standard form of polar
Rhudy Reply
what is a complex number used for?
Drew Reply
It's just like any other number. The important thing to know is that they exist and can be used in computations like any number.
Steve
I would like to add that they are used in AC signal analysis for one thing
Scott
Good call Scott. Also radar signals I believe.
Steve
They are used in any profession where the phase of a waveform has to be accounted for in the calculations. Imagine two electrical signals in a wire that are out of phase by 90°. At some times they will interfere constructively, others destructively. Complex numbers simplify those equations
Tim
Is there any rule we can use to get the nth term ?
Anwar Reply
how do you get the (1.4427)^t in the carp problem?
Gabrielle Reply
A hedge is contrusted to be in the shape of hyperbola near a fountain at the center of yard.the hedge will follow the asymptotes y=x and y=-x and closest distance near the distance to the centre fountain at 5 yards find the eqution of the hyperbola
ayesha Reply
A doctor prescribes 125 milligrams of a therapeutic drug that decays by about 30% each hour. To the nearest hour, what is the half-life of the drug?
Sandra Reply
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, Precalculus. OpenStax CNX. Jan 19, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11667/1.6
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