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But despite all the destruction that these tests caused, their remnants are now being used to answer questions in biology that might otherwise have been unsolvable or, at the least, extremely difficult to study.
Indeed, nuclear bombs set off in the 1950s and 1960s left a distinct environmental signature that is now being used to determine why certain body parts heal better than others, how often various tissues are replaced as you age, and providing us greater insight into the basis of many aging-related diseases.
Carbon-14 is an extremely rare form of carbon, referred to as a radioactive isotope that has 8 neutrons instead of the usual 6 (Figure 1).
While carbon-14 exists naturally at extremely low levels, several excess tons were generated from the above ground testing of hundreds of nuclear bombs in the 1950s and 1960s.
by Paris Bentley figures by Michael Mac Arthur The immediate environmental effects of nuclear bomb testing during the Cold War era were undoubtedly devastating.
Having left enormous negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts all over the world, it is hard to imagine that any sort of silver lining to these tests could exist.
Nitrogen atoms high in the atmosphere can be converted to radiocarbon if they are struck by neutrons produced by cosmic ray bombardment. Oakley (1979) suggested its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.Desmond Clark (1979) wrote that were it not for radiocarbon dating, "we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation" (Clark, 1979:7).This is because the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were done in the Northern Hemisphere, and the biggest ones were done in the Russian Arctic."Everything which has come down to us from heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs to a space of time we cannot measure.
Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science.