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And it uses them: Nearly 10 million carbon compounds have been discovered, and scientists estimate that carbon is the keystone for 95 percent of known compounds, according to the website Chemistry Explained.Carbon's incredible ability to bond with many other elements is a major reason that it is crucial to almost all life. The element was known to prehistoric humans in the form of charcoal.However, the principle of carbon-14 dating applies to other isotopes as well.Potassium-40 is another radioactive element naturally found in your body and has a half-life of 1.3 billion years.This method works on once-living organisms, including objects made of wood or other plant material.Carbon is a long-studied element, but that doesn't mean there isn't more to discover.

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Because organisms stop taking in carbon-14 after death, scientists can use carbon-14's half-life as a sort of clock to measure how long it has been since the organism died.Other useful radioisotopes for radioactive dating include Uranium -235 (half-life = 704 million years), Uranium -238 (half-life = 4.5 billion years), Thorium-232 (half-life = 14 billion years) and Rubidium-87 (half-life = 49 billion years).The use of various radioisotopes allows the dating of biological and geological samples with a high degree of accuracy.Carbon as coal is still a major source of fuel worldwide, providing about 30 percent of energy worldwide, according to the World Coal Association.Coal is also a key component in steel production, while graphite, another form of carbon, is a common industrial lubricant.Under very hot temperatures — greater than 100,000,000 Kelvin (179,999,540.6 F) — the helium nuclei begin to fuse, first as pairs into unstable 4-proton beryllium nuclei, and eventually, as enough beryllium nuclei blink into existence, into a beryllium plus a helium.The end result: Atoms with six protons and six neutrons — carbon.Carbon has two electron shells, with the first holding two electrons and the second holding four out of a possible eight spaces.When atoms bond, they share electrons in their outermost shell.­ ­As soon as a living organism dies, it stops taking in new carbon.The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 at the moment of death is the same as every other living thing, but the carbon-14 decays and is not replaced.

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  1. ISO/IEC 17005-accredited radiocarbon dating lab Beta Analytic describes how contamination is removed from Carbon-14 samples during pretreatment.

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