Scientific instrument used for carbon dating
In 1958, Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings.His explanation was that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had varied over time (by up to one percent).An example of the ingenious technical work and hard-fought debates underlying the main story is the use of radioactive carbon-14 to assign dates to the distant past.For other examples, see the essays on Temperatures from Fossil Shells and Arakawa's Computation Device.After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.
Delicate operations were needed to extract a microscopic sample and process it.
By 1950, Willard Libby and his group at the University of Chicago had worked out ways to measure this proportion precisely.
Their exquisitely sensitive instrumentation was originally developed for studies in entirely different fields including nuclear physics, biomedicine, and detecting fallout from bomb tests.(1) Much of the initial interest in carbon-14 came from archeology, for the isotope could assign dates to Egyptian mummies and the like.
It was an anxious time for scientists whose reputation for accurate work was on the line.
But what looks like unwelcome noise to one specialist may contain information for another.