One application was a timetable of climate changes for tens of thousands of years back. Making the job harder still, baffling anomalies turned up. The carbon dates published by different researchers could not be reconciled, leading to confusion and prolonged controversy.
It was an anxious time for scientists whose reputation for accurate work was on the line. But what looks like unwelcome noise to one specialist may contain information for another.
In , Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon dates of tree rings. His explanation was that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere had varied over time by up to one percent. De Vries thought the variation might be explained by something connected with climate, such as episodes of turnover of ocean waters. Some speculated that such irregularities might be caused by variations in the Earth's magnetic field. A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon Another possibility was that the cause lay in the Sun itself.
De Vries had considered this hypothesis but thought it ad hoc and "not very attractive. In , Minze Stuiver suggested that longer-term solar variations might account for the inconsistent carbon dates. But his data were sketchy. Libby, for one, cast doubt on the idea, so subversive of the many dates his team had supposedly established with high accuracy.
When the stocks of Oxalic Acid I were almost fully consumed, another standard was made from a crop of French beet molasses.
Over the years, other secondary radiocarbon standards have been made. Radiocarbon activity of materials in the background is also determined to remove its contribution from results obtained during a sample analysis. Background samples analyzed are usually geological in origin of infinite age such as coal, lignite, and limestone.
A radiocarbon measurement is termed a conventional radiocarbon age CRA. The CRA conventions include a usage of the Libby half-life, b usage of Oxalic Acid I or II or any appropriate secondary standard as the modern radiocarbon standard, c correction for sample isotopic fractionation to a normalized or base value of These values have been derived through statistical means. American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.
He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample.
It was also Mr. Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his efforts to develop radiocarbon dating.
Discovery of Radiocarbon Dating accessed October 31, Sheridan Bowman, Radiocarbon Dating: Interpreting the Past , University of California Press. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry AMS dating involves accelerating ions to extraordinarily high kinetic energies followed by mass analysis.
The application of radiocarbon dating to groundwater analysis can offer a technique to predict the over-pumping of the aquifer before it becomes contaminated or overexploited. Beta Analytic does not accept pharmaceutical samples with "tracer Carbon" or any other material containing artificial Carbon to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. The above list is not exhaustive; most organic material is suitable so long as it is of sufficient age and has not mineralised - dinosaur bones are out as they no longer have any carbon left. Stone and metal cannot be dated but pottery may be dated through surviving residue such as food particles or paint that uses organic material 8.
There are a number of ways to enter into a career in studying radiocarbon dating. Typically, a Master's Degree in chemistry is required because of the extensive lab work. Increasingly though, students are learning about the principles of radiocarbon dates in archaeology, palaeontology and climate science degrees and can combine cross-disciplinary studies.
The method developed in the 's and was a ground-breaking piece of research that would change dating methods forever. A team of researchers led by Willard F. Libby calculated the rate of radioactive decay of the 14 C isotope 4 in carbon black powder. As a test, the team took samples of acacia wood from two Egyptian Pharaohs and dated them; the results came back to within what was then a reasonable range: Archaeologists had used Relative Dating methods to calculate their reigns.
Though their initial calculations were slightly incorrect thanks to the contaminants of extensive nuclear testing of the age, scientists soon discovered the error and developed methods that were more accurate, including a date of calibration to This new method was based on gas and liquid scintillation counting and these methods are still used today, having been demonstrated as more accurate than Libby's original method 3.
Willard Libby would receive a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in The next big step in the radiocarbon dating method would be Accelerated Mass Spectrometry which was developed in the late s and published its first results in 3.
This was a giant leap forward in that it offered far more accurate dates for a far smaller sample 9 ; this made destruction of samples a far less delicate issue to researchers, especially on artefacts such as The Shroud of Turin for which accurate dates were now possible without damaging a significant part of the artefact.
AMS counts the quantity of 14 C in a sample rather than waiting for the isotope to decay; this also means greater accuracy readings for older dates. The 14 C isotope is constantly formed in the upper atmosphere thanks to the effects of cosmic rays on nitrogen atoms. It is oxidised quickly and absorbed in great quantities by all living organisms - animal and plant, land and ocean dwelling alike.
When an organism dies, it stops absorbing the radioactive isotope and immediately starts decaying 7. Radiocarbon dating is simply a measure of the level of 14 C isotope within the organic remains 8.
This is not as clear-cut as it seems as the amount of 14 C isotopes in the atmosphere can vary. This is why calibration against objects whose age is known is required AMS works slightly differently; it converts the atoms of the sample into fast-moving ions so that they become charged atoms.