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So carbon by definition has six protons, but the typical isotope, the most common isotope of carbon is carbon-12. And then that carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the rest of the atmosphere, into our oceans. 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.
But what's interesting is that a small fraction of carbon-14 forms, and then this carbon-14 can then also combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.and *.are unblocked. And it has seven protons, and it also has seven neutrons. So the different versions of a given element, those are each called isotopes. So anyway, we have our atmosphere, and then coming from our sun, we have what's commonly called cosmic rays, but they're actually not rays. You can view them as just single protons, which is the same thing as a hydrogen nucleus. But every now and then one of those neutrons will bump into one of the nitrogen-14's in just the right way so that it bumps off one of the protons in the nitrogen and essentially replaces that proton with itself. But this number 14 doesn't go down to 13 because it replaces it with itself. And now since it only has six protons, this is no longer nitrogen, by definition. And that proton that was bumped off just kind of gets emitted. But this process-- and once again, it's not a typical process, but it happens every now and then-- this is how carbon-14 forms. You can essentially view it as a nitrogen-14 where one of the protons is replaced with a neutron. It makes its way into oceans-- it's already in the air, but it completely mixes through the whole atmosphere-- and the air. 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. It gets put into plants, and then it gets put into the things that eat the plants. Well, the interesting thing is the only time you can take in this carbon-14 is while you're alive, while you're eating new things.
What I want to do in this video is kind of introduce you to the idea of, one, how carbon-14 comes about, and how it gets into all living things. They can also be alpha particles, which is the same thing as a helium nucleus. And they're going to come in, and they're going to bump into things in our atmosphere, and they're actually going to form neutrons. And we'll show a neutron with a lowercase n, and a 1 for its mass number. And what's interesting about this is this is constantly being formed in our atmosphere, not in huge quantities, but in reasonable quantities. Because as soon as you die and you get buried under the ground, there's no way for the carbon-14 to become part of your tissue anymore because you're not eating anything with new carbon-14.
After one half life, it would have had 1/2 the carbon.
And then after another half life, half of that also turns into a nitrogen-14.
So the rate at which this happens, so the rate of carbon-14 decay, is essentially half disappears, half gone, in roughly 5,730 years. Even better, maybe you dig a little deeper, and you find another bone. And you say, wow, you know this thing right over here has 1/4 the carbon-14 that I would expect to find in something living. Well, if it only has 1/4 the carbon-14 it must have gone through two half lives.
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a bad rap, what with radiation and fallout and nuclear waste and all. One of the coolest (OK, maybe the coolest) is using radioactive carbon to determine the age of old bones or plants.This is fine, because when carbon-14 decays, it produces nitrogen-14. But you could imagine that if you knew that the sample started with 20 percent blue spheres and you knew their half-life, then you could determine the age by examining one frame from the animation.