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The method does not count beta particles but the number of carbon atoms present in the sample and the proportion of the isotopes. Samples that have been radiocarbon dated since the inception of the method include charcoal, wood, twigs, seeds, bones, shells, leather, peat, lake mud, soil, hair, pottery, pollen, wall paintings, corals, blood residues, fabrics, paper or parchment, resins, and water, among others.Physical and chemical pretreatments are done on these materials to remove possible contaminants before they are analyzed for their radiocarbon content.This scintillator produces a flash of light when it interacts with a beta particle.A vial with a sample is passed between two photomultipliers, and only when both devices register the flash of light that a count is made.Carbon-14 is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5,700 years.For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.By knowing how much carbon 14 is left in a sample, the age of the organism when it died can be known.

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Radiocarbon, or carbon 14, is an isotope of the element carbon that is unstable and weakly radioactive. Carbon 14 is continually being formed in the upper atmosphere by the effect of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen 14 atoms.

The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.

Maybe one in a trillion carbon atoms are carbon-14.

When they die, they stop exchanging carbon with the biosphere and their carbon 14 content then starts to decrease at a rate determined by the law of radioactive decay.

Radiocarbon dating is essentially a method designed to measure residual radioactivity.

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