Radiocarbon dating other methods
It also has some applications in geology; its importance in dating organic materials cannot be underestimated enough.In 1979, Desmond Clark said of the method “we would still be foundering in a sea of imprecisions sometime bred of inspired guesswork but more often of imaginative speculation” (3).It is presumed that the proportion of atmospheric C is the same today as it was in 1950 (10), (11) and that the half-life remains the same.If a radioactivity level comes back as half of what would have been expected if the organism had died in 1950, then it is presumed to be 5,730 years before 1950.This does not mean that we have a precise year of 3780BC, it means we then need to calibrate through other methods that will show us how atmospheric concentrations of the C isotope has changed - most typically through the dendrochronology records (tree ring data) (10).Very old trees such as North American Bristlecone Pine are ideal for constructing long and accurate records of the state of the atmosphere.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 1960.
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: 2800BC /- 250 years whereas the earlier independent dates (largely the dendrochronology records) were 2625 /- 75 years (3), (5).When an organism dies, it stops absorbing the radioactive isotope and immediately starts decaying (7).As previously mentioned, the half life of the C isotope is 5,730 years - this means that it takes 5,730 years to reach half the radioactivity that the organism had at the point of death, another 5,730 years to reach 25% radioactivity it had at the point of death and so on.This allows researchers to account for variation by comparing the known records of C levels in the tree record, looking for a tree record that has the same proportion of radiocarbon.The overlapping nature of the tree records means this is the most accurate record we have.
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Typically, a Master's Degree in chemistry is required because of the extensive lab work.