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Carbon-14 is produced in the upper layers of the troposphere and the stratosphere by thermal neutrons absorbed by nitrogen atoms.

When cosmic rays enter the atmosphere, they undergo various transformations, including the production of neutrons.

It is typically released to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide at BWRs, and methane at PWRs., radioactive carbon dioxide.

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has been estimated to be roughly 12 to 16 years in the northern hemisphere.

One of the frequent uses of the technique is to date organic remains from archaeological sites.

Plants fix atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis, so the level of C level for the calculation can either be estimated, or else directly compared with known year-by-year data from tree-ring data (dendrochronology) up to 10,000 years ago (using overlapping data from live and dead trees in a given area), or else from cave deposits (speleothems), back to about 45,000 years before the present.

Libby estimated that the radioactivity of exchangeable carbon-14 would be about 14 disintegrations per minute (dpm) per gram of pure carbon, and this is still used as the activity of the modern radiocarbon standard.

In 1960, Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for this work.

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