But in a dead organism, no new carbon is coming in, and its carbon 14 gradually begins to decay.
So by measuring carbon 14 levels in an organism that died long ago, researchers can figure out when it died.
Most carbon atoms have six protons and six neutrons in their nuclei and are called carbon 12. But a tiny percentage of carbon is made of carbon 14, or radiocarbon, which has six protons and eight neutrons and is not stable: half of any sample of it decays into other atoms after 5,700 years.
The lab is based in Miami, Florida, and is the world leader in Carbon-14 analyses since 1979.Much of the information presented in this section is based upon the Stuiver and Polach (1977) paper "Discussion: Reporting of C14 data". 1890 wood was chosen as the radiocarbon standard because it was growing prior to the fossil fuel effects of the industrial revolution.A copy of this paper may be found in the Radiocarbon Home Page The radiocarbon age of a sample is obtained by measurement of the residual radioactivity. T (National Institute of Standards and Technology; Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA) Oxalic Acid I (C). The activity of 1890 wood is corrected for radioactive decay to 1950.The carbon 14 present in an organism at the time of its death decays at a steady rate, and so the age of the remains can be calculated from the amount of carbon 14 that is left. The cells of all living things contain carbon atoms that they take in from their environment.Back in the 1940s, the American chemist Willard Libby used this fact to determine the ages of organisms long dead.