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Knowing about half-lives is important because it enables you to determine when a sample of radioactive material is safe to handle.
The rule is that a sample is safe when its radioactivity has dropped below detection limits. So, if radioactive iodine-131 (which has a half-life of 8 days) is injected into the body to treat thyroid cancer, it’ll be “gone” in 10 half-lives, or 80 days.
This decay is an example of an exponential decay, shown in the figure below.
The impact of the radiocarbon dating technique on modern man has made it one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.
No other scientific method has managed to revolutionize man’s understanding not only of his present but also of events that already happened thousands of years ago.
The primary carbon-containing compound in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and a very small amount of carbon dioxide contains C-14.
Plants absorb C-14 during photosynthesis, so C-14 is incorporated into the cellular structure of plants.
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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.