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The bomb pulse has been declining since the 1963 above-ground test ban treaty, creating a sort of clock they could exploit.

By determining how many radioactive carbon atoms a cell contained, Spalding and Frisén hoped they could calculate its birthdate. Spalding’s curiosity eventually leading her to a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Stockholm.

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Other cells, like those in the adult brain and nervous system, have been viewed as more like the Mona Lisa. Spalding, once a postdoc at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and now a professor there, knew there were tantalizing hints that the adult hippocampus—a seahorse-shaped region deep in the brain that is important for memory and learning—could regenerate neurons.

But without knowing exactly when each neuron was created, scientists couldn’t say with any certainty that this was true.

The radiocarbon dating method is based on certain assumptions on the global concentration of carbon 14 at any given time.

One assumption is that the global levels of carbon 14 (also called radiocarbon) in the atmosphere has not changed over time.

Mixing and exchanges happen between the atmosphere and the biosphere until such time that equilibrium is established.

Radiocarbon dating rests heavily on this assumption such that other sources of carbon 14 had, at first, not been considered nor accounted for.

The carbon 14 produced reacts with oxygen atoms in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide.

This carbon dioxide is no different from those produced by carbon 12 and carbon 13; hence, carbon dioxide with carbon 14 has the same fate as those produced with the other carbon isotopes.

Omnivores and carnivores lag the atmosphere further because their carbon sources are another step removed.

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