For a rare event it happens pretty damn often — one million carbon-14 atoms in your body decay into nitrogen every minute!But don't panic — of the 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms in every one of us, about 800,000,000,000,000 are carbon-14, so we've got a few to spare.Ninety-nine percent of these also contain six neutrons.The 6 proton 6 neutron atoms are said to have a mass of 12 and are referred to as "carbon-12." The nuclei of the remaining one percent of carbon atoms contain not six but either seven or eight neutrons in addition to the standard six protons.Not only that, we top up our carbon-14 levels every time we eat.And plants top up their radioactive carbon every time they turn carbon dioxide to food during photosynthesis.
Organisms capture a certain amount of carbon-14 from the atmosphere when they are alive.
Chemically, carbon-14 is no different from non-radioactive carbon atoms, so it ends up in all the usual carbon places — one trillionth of the carbon atoms in air, plants, animals and us are radioactive.
All radioactive atoms eventually decay into something more stable, and carbon-14 decays into nitrogen.
Theoretically, if one could detect the amount of carbon-14 in an object, one could establish that object’s age using the half-life, or rate of decay, of the isotope.
In 1946, Libby proposed this groundbreaking idea in the journal Physical Review.