There is a quantitative relationship between the decay of 14C and the production of a beta particle. That is, the probability of decay for an atom of 14C in a discrete sample is constant, thereby requiring the application of statistical methods for the analysis of counting data.
It follows from this that any material which is composed of carbon may be dated.
There is a useful diagrammatic representation of this process given here Libby, Anderson and Arnold (1949) were the first to measure the rate of this decay.
Renfrew (1973) called it 'the radiocarbon revolution' in describing its impact upon the human sciences.Oakley (1979) suggested its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.Nyerup's words illustrate poignantly the critical power and importance of dating; to order time.Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science.The 14C formed is rapidly oxidised to 14CO2 and enters the earth's plant and animal lifeways through photosynthesis and the food chain.
The rapidity of the dispersal of C14 into the atmosphere has been demonstrated by measurements of radioactive carbon produced from thermonuclear bomb testing.
14C also enters the Earth's oceans in an atmospheric exchange and as dissolved carbonate (the entire 14C inventory is termed the carbon exchange reservoir (Aitken, 1990)).
Plants and animals which utilise carbon in biological foodchains take up 14C during their lifetimes.
Libby later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960: (From Taylor, 1987).
Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories around the world producing radiocarbon assays for the scientific community.
Measured 14C values on standard and blank samples reduced via zinc reaction revealed mean background levels, accuracy, and sensitivity comparable to those obtained by our conventional hydrogen reaction lines.