Nuclear radiation carbon dating

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.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 cleverly realized that carbon-14 in the atmosphere would find its way into living matter, which would thus be tagged with the radioactive isotope.

But no one had yet detected carbon-14 in nature— at this point, Korff and Libby’s predictions about radiocarbon were entirely theoretical.

When an element undergoes radioactive decay, it creates radiation and turns into some other element.

Of course, the best way to understand something is to model it, because the last thing you want to do at home is experiment with something radioactive. Before doing any modeling, you must first understand one key idea: Each atom in a sample of material has an essentially random chance to decay.

In 1946, Willard Libby proposed an innovative method for dating organic materials by measuring their content of carbon-14, a newly discovered radioactive isotope of carbon.

Known as radiocarbon dating, this method provides objective age estimates for carbon-based objects that originated from living organisms.

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However, the rates of movement of carbon throughout the cycle were not then known.

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