History of radioactive dating

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Libby and graduate student Ernest Anderson (1920–2013) calculated the mixing of carbon across these different reservoirs, particularly in the oceans, which constitute the largest reservoir.

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In order to prove his concept of radiocarbon dating, Libby needed to confirm the existence of natural carbon-14, a major challenge given the tools then available.

Theoretically, if one could detect the amount of carbon-14 in an object, one could establish that object’s age using the half-life, or rate of decay, of the isotope.

In 1946, Libby proposed this groundbreaking idea in the journal Physical Review.

Finally, Libby had a method to put his concept into practice. The circular arrangement of Geiger counters (center) detected radiation in samples while the thick metal shields on all sides were designed to reduce background radiation.

The concept of radiocarbon dating relied on the ready assumption that once an organism died, it would be cut off from the carbon cycle, thus creating a time-capsule with a steadily diminishing carbon-14 count.

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