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Neutrons from a research reactor can interact with atoms in a sample causing the emission of gamma rays which, when analysed for characteristic energies and intensity, will identify the types and quantities of elements present.

The radioactive isotope carbon-14 is created in the upper atmosphere when cosmic-ray particles from outer space strike nitrogen atoms and transform them into radioactive carbon.

The continuous analysis and rapid response of nuclear techniques, many involving radioisotopes, mean that reliable flow and analytic data can be constantly available.After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.Thus the less of it that remained in an object, in proportion to normal carbon, the older the object was.After incorporating radioactive atoms into reactant molecules, scientists can track where the atoms go by following their radioactivity.One excellent example of this is the use of radioactive carbon-14 to determine the steps involved in the photosynthesis in plants.This dating method works by measuring the ratio of different isotopes of carbon in a sample using a particle accelerator, such as the ANTARES accelerator at ANSTO. The carbon-12 isotope makes up 99% of all carbon on earth, carbon-13 accounts for almost 1%, and carbon-14 is found in trace amounts.

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