Discovery of carbon 14 dating
Nuclear laboratories, awash with funds and prestige, spun off the discovery of an amazing new technique radiocarbon dating.
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.
A professor’s discovery of radiocarbon dating in 1946 was designated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark on Monday.
The dedication took place at Kent Chemical Laboratory, the building in which professor Willard F.
Their exquisitely sensitive instrumentation was originally developed for studies in entirely different fields including nuclear physics, biomedicine, and detecting fallout from bomb tests.(1) Much of the initial interest in carbon-14 came from archeology, for the isotope could assign dates to Egyptian mummies and the like.
The best way to transfer the exacting techniques was in the heads of the scientists themselves, as they moved to a new job.
Professor David Mazziotti, who submitted Libby’s work for consideration, first explained what radiocarbon dating is, and professor Kathleen Morrison lectured on the application of radiocarbon dating in the field of archaeology.
Climate science required the invention and mastery of many difficult techniques.
He was looking for the carbon that human industry had been emitting by burning fossil fuels, in which all the carbon-14 had long since decayed away.
Comparing the old wood with modern samples, he showed that the fossil carbon could be detected in the modern atmosphere.(5) Through the 1950s and beyond, carbon-14 workers published detailed tables of dates painstakingly derived from samples of a wondrous variety of materials, including charcoal, peat, clamshells, antlers, pine cones, and the stomach contents of an extinct Moa found buried in New Zealand.(6) The measurements were correlated with materials of known dates, such as a well-documented mummy or a log from the roof of an old building (where tree rings gave an accurate count of years).