Dust to Dust
The Carbon Cycle
Health Science / Nursing
Brookdale Community College
Biology, Plant Breeding and Genetics
Borough of Manhattan Community College / City University of New York
Tom and his grandfather, a retired high school chemistry teacher, are talking about a National Geographic television documentary titled “Waking the Baby Mammoth.” As students read the dialogue that ensues, they learn how carbon, an essential element of life, is transformed from carbon dioxide to carbohydrate to animals, then back to carbon dioxide. The case emphasizes a number of chemistry concepts, including atomic structures, carbon isotopes, radiocarbon dating, beta decay, half-life, and photosynthesis. Developed as a supplement to the nuclear chemistry chapter in a non-majors general chemistry course, the case could also be used in an introductory botany, paleobiology, plant, or general ecology course after students have completed at least one semester of general chemistry.
- Emphasize the importance of photosynthesis to animals on earth.
- Highlight the concept that carbon is the building block of all living organisms.
- Reinforce atomic structure: subatomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons).
- Enhance the concepts of radioactive isotope, radiation, and beta decay.
- Provide practice in balancing nuclear equations.
- Apply the concept of half-life to the carbon dating technique.
KeywordsCarbon; carbon dioxide; C-14; carbon isotope; atomic structure; radiocarbon dating; beta decay; half-life; photosynthesis; nuclear chemistry
Educational LevelHigh school; Undergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsDirected, Discussion
Subject HeadingsChemistry (General) | Biology (General) | Ecology | Botany / Plant Science |
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