# How carbon dating

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This lesson is the third in a three-part series about the nucleus, isotopes, and radioactive decay.

Advise students to read through the case first so that they understand what they should do.The exercise they will go through of working backwards from measurements to age should help them understand how scientists use carbon dating to try to determine the age of fossils and other materials.To be able to do this lesson and understand the idea of half-life, students should understand ratios and the multiplication of fractions, and be somewhat comfortable with probability.(This page has been archived and is found on the Internet Archive.) In addition to using answers to students' Analysis questions and their graphs for evaluation, consider having them respond to the following in their science journals or as a homework essay: Pretend you are on a month-long field trip to dig for artifacts that might have been left from the pre-colonial period in the United States.Write a letter to a friend explaining what radiocarbon dating is.Be sure to include how radiocarbon dating works backwards to solve a puzzle.

Explain to your friend how you and other archaeologists, with the help of chemistry, determine how old your discoveries are.They should also understand that the atoms of any element are alike but are different from atoms of other elements.Atoms may stick together in well-defined molecules or they could be packed together in large arrays."Carbon-14 undergoes beta decay with a half-life of 5720 years.The element carbon is an essential element in all living matter.Make a data table and, at regular intervals (you decide how long), record the time on the clock and the volume of water in the graduated cylinder.