Once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 reduces by the fixed half-life - or the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay - of 5,730 years, and can be measured by scientists for up to 10 half-lives.
Measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 remaining makes it possible to work out how old the artifact is, whether it's a fossilized skeleton or a magnificent piece of artwork.
Radiocarbon dating has been used extensively since its discovery.
Examples of use include analyzing charcoal from prehistoric caves, ancient linen and wood, and mummified remains.
The half-life is the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay.
For example, if you start off with 1000 radioactive nuclei with a half-life of 10 days, you would have 500 left after 10 days; you would have 250 left after 20 days (2 half-lives); and so on.
Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in 1960.
Each radioactive isotope decays by a fixed amount, and this amount is called the half-life.
Scientists often use the value of 10 half-lives to indicate when a radioactive isotope will be gone, or rather, when a very negligible amount is still left.
This is why radiocarbon dating is only useful for dating objects up to around 50,000 years old (about 10 half-lives).
For the record, a beta-particle is a specific type of nuclear decay. Image 1 shows carbon-14 production by high energy neutrons hitting nitrogen-14 atoms, while in Image 2, carbon-14 naturally decomposes through beta-particle production.
Notice that the nitrogen-14 atom is recreated and goes back into the cycle.