Carbon 14 test used dating tool

Its size and cost could decrease even more once the instrument is converted from its current tabletop version to a more portable commercial prototype.

“With a portable instrument, direct measurements could be conducted on-site, with results returned in a very short time,” Galli said.

The approach shows promise as a measurement tool in many fields, including carbon dating and greenhouse gas detection.

Image Credit: Saverio Bartalini, CNR Faster, cheaper carbon dating Current carbon dating processes require researchers to send a sample to a large facility with an accelerator mass spectrometer and then wait several weeks to get results back.

A device such as this could offer a way to tie a monetary cost, or tax, to pollution.

“We developed a very general spectroscopic technique and showed that it can be used to detect radiocarbon dioxide,” said Giovanni Giusfredi, a member of the research team.

“Accelerator mass spectroscopy can be used to carbon date bones, wood, fabrics or anything of biological origin, pinpointing its age of up to 50,000 years ago,” said Iacopo Galli, a member of the research team.

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“Although the instrument is relatively simple, the performance obtained by our system is a result of many years of studying of the physics of the various optical components,” Giusfredi said.

There, a light beam emitted from a quantum cascade laser at 4.5 microns – an ideal wavelength for sensitive gas detection – interacts with the carbon dioxide inside a 1-meter-long optical cavity with highly reflective mirrors on each end. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts.

As the light repeatedly bounces between the mirrors, the radiocarbon molecules in the cavity absorb some of the light.

The carbon-14 decays with its half-life of 5,700 years, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.

By looking at the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in the sample and comparing it to the ratio in a living organism, it is possible to determine the age of a formerly living thing fairly precisely. So, if you had a fossil that had 10 percent carbon-14 compared to a living sample, then that fossil would be: t = [ ln (0.10) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ (-2.303) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ 3.323 ] x 5,700 years Because the half-life of carbon-14 is 5,700 years, it is only reliable for dating objects up to about 60,000 years old.

“In principle, we can use our apparatus to detect many other molecules such as methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases or chemicals of interest for national security or forensics.” How it works The SCAR device detects radiocarbon levels by measuring how laser light interacts with the carbon dioxide that is produced when a given sample is burned.

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