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Forms of the same element that contain different numbers of neutrons.

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Carbon, We Need You!!

Why is carbon-14 such a useful isotope of carbon?

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

an application of carbon-14, determining the relative age of fossils [Figure1]

Isotopes are the variants of the same element with different masses. Their masses are different because of the varying number of neutrons they have, but same number of protons. To deal with this, we find the atomic mass of any element through a weighted average of the masses of its isotopes. When averaged, the result would be a decimal number. Therefore, the atomic masses of all elements in the periodic table are not whole numbers.

For instance, Carbon-14 is an isotope of the element carbon because it is carbon with 8 neutrons. There are 14 subatomic particles altogether and 6 protons. The remaining mass comes from neutrons. Hence, 14 - 6 = 8.

Creative Applications

1. Do some research. Find other types of carbon isotopes.

2. How is Carbon-14 important for scientists?

3. What results can be shown from radioactive dating?

4.  Try this at home! Did you know that you can illustrate isotopes through everyday objects as well? Whenever you bake chocolate chip cookies next time, put different amounts of chocolate chip on each cookie. Each chocolate chip can represent a neutron, just like how a different number of neutrons in an element constitute isotopes.

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