Radiocarbon dating the continuing revolution

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He reasoned that a state of equilibrium must exist wherein the rate of carbon-14 production was equal to its rate of decay, dating back millennia.

(Fortunately for him, this was later proven to be generally true.) For the second factor, it would be necessary to estimate the overall amount carbon-14 and compare this against all other isotopes of carbon.

At the time, no radiation-detecting instrument (such as a Geiger counter) was sensitive enough to detect the small amount of carbon-14 that Libby’s experiments required.

Libby reached out to Aristid von Grosse (1905–1985) of the Houdry Process Corporation who was able to provide a methane sample that had been enriched in carbon-14 and which could be detected by existing tools.

Libby’s next task was to study the movement of carbon through the carbon cycle.It showed all of Libby’s results lying within a narrow statistical range of the known ages, thus proving the success of radiocarbon dating.Top of page The “Curve of Knowns” compared the known age of historical artifacts associated with the Bible, Pompeii, and Egyptian dynasties with their age as determined by radiocarbon dating.Korff predicted that the reaction between these neutrons and nitrogen-14, which predominates in the atmosphere, would produce carbon-14, also called radiocarbon.Libby cleverly realized that carbon-14 in the atmosphere would find its way into living matter, which would thus be tagged with the radioactive isotope.

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