Radiocarbon is not stable; over time radiocarbon atoms decay into nitrogen atoms.This tendency to decay, called radioactivity, is what gives radiocarbon the name radiocarbon.However, cosmic radiation constantly collides with atoms in the upper atmosphere.Part of the result of these collisions is the production of radiocarbon (C, pronounced "c fourteen"), carbon atoms which are chemically the same as stable carbon, but have two extra neutrons.
The following article is primarily based on a discussion of radiocarbon dating found in The Biblical Chronologist Volume 5, Number 1. Radiocarbon dating is based on a few relatively simple principles. The vast majority of these are C (pronounced "c twelve"), the stable isotope of carbon.
In discussions of the age of the earth and the antiquity of the human race, creationists often assail perceived weaknesses in radiocarbon dating. Morris, for instance, wrote, "Despite its high popularity, [radiocarbon dating] involves a number of doubtful assumptions, some of which are sufficiently serious to make its results for all ages exceeding about 2000 or 3000 years, in serious need of revision." [Morris2000, pg. Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that the interaction of cosmic rays from outer space with nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere produces an unstable isotope of carbon, namely radiocarbon.
Since it is chemically indistinguishable from the stable isotopes of carbon (carbon-12 and carbon-13), radiocarbon is taken by plants during photosynthesis and then ingested by animals regularly throughout their lifetimes.
The application of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon dating in the late 1970s was also a major achievement.
Compared to conventional radiocarbon techniques such as Libby's solid carbon counting, the gas counting method popular in the mid-1950s, or liquid scintillation (LS) counting, AMS permitted the dating of much smaller sized samples with even greater precision.