Can carbon 14 dating

He was inspired by physicist Serge Korff (1906–1989) of New York University, who in 1939 discovered that neutrons were produced during the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays.

Korff predicted that the reaction between these neutrons and nitrogen-14, which predominates in the atmosphere, would produce carbon-14, also called radiocarbon.

Libby’s next task was to study the movement of carbon through the carbon cycle.

In a system where carbon-14 is readily exchanged throughout the cycle, the ratio of carbon-14 to other carbon isotopes should be the same in a living organism as in the atmosphere.

In the absence of any historical data concerning the intensity of cosmic radiation, Libby simply assumed that it had been constant.

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.

The “radiocarbon revolution” made possible by Libby’s discovery greatly benefitted the fields of archaeology and geology by allowing practitioners to develop more precise historical chronologies across geography and cultures.

The results showed that Ötzi died over 5000 years ago, sometime between 33 BC. It is found in the air in carbon dioxide molecules.

The amount of carbon-14 in the air has stayed the same for thousands of years.

There is a small amount of radioactive carbon-14 in all living organisms because it enters the food chain.

We learned rather abruptly that these numbers, these ancient ages, are not known accurately; in fact, it is at about the time of the First Dynasty in Egypt that the first historical date of any real certainty has been established.” —Willard Libby, Nobel Lecture, 12 December 1960 The concept of radiocarbon dating focused on measuring the carbon content of discreet organic objects, but in order to prove the idea Libby would have to understand the earth’s carbon system.

Radiocarbon dating would be most successful if two important factors were true: that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had been constant for thousands of years, and that carbon-14 moved readily through the atmosphere, biosphere, oceans and other reservoirs—in a process known as the carbon cycle.

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