In this section we will explore the use of carbon dating to determine the age of fossil remains. Carbon is a key element in biologically important molecules. During the lifetime of an organism, carbon is brought into the cell from the environment in the form of either carbon dioxide or carbon-based food molecules such as glucose; then used to build biologically important molecules such as sugars, proteins, fats, and nucleic acids.
Archaeologists use the exponential, radioactive decay of carbon 14 to estimate the death dates of organic material.
Radiocarbon dating methods produce data that must then be further manipulated in order to calculate a resulting "radiocarbon age". The calculations to be performed on the measurements taken depend on the technology used, since beta counters measure the sample's radioactivity, whereas accelerator mass spectrometers AMS determine the ratio of the three different carbon isotopes in the sample. The calculations to convert measured data to an estimate of the age of the sample require the use of several standards. To compensate for this, the measurements are converted to the activity, or isotope ratio, that would have been measured if the sample had been made of wood.
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